The sweet perfume of lavender and roses fills the air meeting the melodic sound of chirping birds and buzzing bees. Warmth emanates from sun-washed stone walls and fountains splash among lush gardens. It’s the kind of place one can relish even with eyes closed, and that is exactly what owners Noel and Carrie Vallejo desired when they decided to transform their Alpine mountainside property into a hillside paradise inspired by the intoxicating landscapes of Tuscany.
Photos by Joshua Caldwell
Achieving this blissful vision fell to landscape architects Jeremy Fillmore and Ryan Talbot of Northland Design. Collaborating closely with Noel, these pros quickly understood that they were to deliver more than sublime beauty to the three-acre property. “There was to be an emotion and feeling to the landscape,” Fillmore explains. The designers worked with their client to ensure every element—from grand gestures to small, handwrought details—enhanced the journey through a landscape dotted with memorable features and extraordinary destinations.
During their initial visit, Fillmore and Talbot looked beyond the home’s simple lawns and time-worn pool. “All we saw were incredible views and humongous potential,” Fillmore recalls. The sprawling property was enclosed by a perimeter wall Noel had constructed from stones harvested from his land; mountain and valley scenes rose above the walls at every turn. The architects’ challenge was to transform the simple yard into an emotive adventure, an experiential dreamscape. From the get-go, Noel asked Fillmore and Talbot to include the finest of everything in their design concept. “Noel is a big thinker,” Talbot explains. “He wanted to know about the best options and gave us freedom to design and be creative without constraints of any kind.”
Taking their client’s lead, the duo crafted a daring concept anchored by extraordinary structures, dazzling water features and lush gardens that anchored the project’s design. “The initial concept guided the project generally but not specifically,” says Fillmore, explaining that many of the finer points evolved from figurative brushstrokes made during the property’s transformation. “Noel would say, ‘Let’s paint,’ meaning let’s play around with the details until they feel just right emotionally.” A children’s playhouse tied to the grand pavilion, a granite jumping platform added to the pool’s end and custom pots handmade to top stone pillars are just a few of many alterations and additions made to enhance the already stellar design. “It was a unique pleasure to work so intimately with an owner driven by the actual feel of a project,” Talbot says.
MAKE A SPLASH
Noel also insisted on the use of authentic materials, from cast bronze for scuppers and ornate planters to handwrought iron for fences and hand-hewn stone for pavers—each individually crafted by talented artisans. Of course, this exacting approach required time as the inspired landscape was sculpted into exactly what Noel and its creators imagined it to be—nine years to be exact. “Great design reveals itself over time, and this project reminded us about the rewards of being patient,” Fillmore says.
As with many Tuscan gardens, this sloped landscape fully reveals itself only as you move through the property. It’s about exploring and discovering, with paths and steps that appear and disappear through a lavishly planted site punctuated by architecturally commanding structures, intriguing gardens and intimate retreats. “We wanted to create spaces that step with the land rather than being on one plane,” notes Talbot, who traveled to Tuscany to study its celebrated gardens and sweeping landscapes. His discoveries inspired many of the property’s plantings that he and Fillmore inserted, including lines of Taylor junipers mimicking age-old Italian cypress as well as commanding sycamores, smaller Japanese maples and hawthorns delivering canopies of shade and living sculpture to the dynamic landscape. To put the proverbial cherry on the cake, the duo signed on landscape designer Heidi Fischio-Brewer, whose blooming perennials, vibrant flowers and herbaceous plantings robustly fill bronze planters, top stone walls and garnish gardens in mass across the landscape.
Centrally located, the main pool and expansive pavilion lead to an inviting fire pit patio below, seemingly transporting you to an old European plaza. Further down the incline, a lawn-set amphitheater opens to breathtaking views and a boxwood-edged, crushed-stone path that slopes down to an intimate timber pergola and water feature created especially for Carrie. It is now her favorite place to retreat in the gardens. On the opposite side of the property, a hot tub patio, tennis court and a children’s lawn and playhouse step above the centralized pool area. At every turn, surprises abound. Sparkling water spills from extravagantly decorated bronze scuppers and spouts designed by Talbot; inviting daybeds hang from soaring arched posts, tight paths unexpectedly open to expansive lawns and exuberant blooms cascade from wall tops and elevated planters.
“There is a poetry to this project,” Fillmore explains. “The different spaces evoke unique emotions but the whole thing tells a complete story.” And, like lines from an Italian sonnet, this landscape’s inspired elements provoke reflection, exhilaration, and even bewilderment and outright joy—emotions shared by the Vallejos and everyone with whom they generously share their piece of paradise.
Looking for more outdoor inspiration? Stroll through our favorite backyard walkways here.