An Arizona landscaper shows how to banish clutter from your life (or at least your backyard)
written by Sharon Cohoon
1 of 8Jennifer Cheung
Reclaim the entry
Every garden needs at least one area where you can shut out the world. This entry in a 1960s-modern home in Paradise Valley, Arizona, is that spot for landscape designer Brian Kissinger and his partner Todd McCandless.
Why it works: With its front gates closed (frosted-glass panes let in light), the courtyard becomes a private outdoor room. A canopy of date palms shades a small collection of subtropical plants and helps cool the space in summer.
Adapt the idea: Don’t have a whole courtyard to play with? Block off a corner near your entry with a trellis, train a vine to clamber over it, then tuck a bench behind.
2 of 8Photography by Jennifer Cheung
Make a park out of a path
Kissinger made his entry path feel more like a nature trail than a garden walk. Thyme grows between steps; boulders, cactus, and rosemary fringe the path’s edges.
Why it works: Even before his guests get to the house, wide steps (made of concrete aggregate) encourage them to slow down and enjoy the garden.
Adapt the idea: If your yard doesn’t have enough sun for thyme, tuck Corsican mint or Japanese sweet flag between your steps or pavers; both have scented foliage. Stagger your pavers to slow the “journey.”
3 of 8Photography by Jennifer Cheung
Limit your plant selections
Give the stars of each bed―such as these barrel cactus―enough room to show off. Then restrict the supporting cast to a few plants that complement them.
Stone mulches cover the bare soil, emphasizing the clean, graphic look.
Why it works: Well-spaced plants, arranged by kind, are more calming than a chaotic jumble of different types. You can appreciate each one’s form more easily.
Adapt the idea: If cactus won’t be happy where you live, plant a grid of carex, deer grass, or Phormium tenax ‘Jack Spratt’.
4 of 8Photography by Jennifer Cheung
Add objects with meaning
An Indonesian Buddha’s head is especially symbolic in this garden―Kissinger has taken up Buddhism.
Why it works: Meaningful treasures remind you to slow down and live in the moment.
Get the feeling: Tuck a favorite find or two from your travels or flea-market forays beside rocks or among shrubs.
5 of 8Photography by Jennifer Cheung
Use one plant per pot
Kissinger set one plant into each white ceramic ‘Cylinder’ container, from Gainey Ceramics (gaineyceramics.com).
Why it works: A single plant with a bold, sculptural shape is easier on the eye than a mixed planting. And a white pot allows it to shine.
Adapt the idea: You don’t have to buy large, expensive specimens like Kissinger did―try smaller agaves or ferns instead.
6 of 8Photography by Jennifer Cheung
Use a neutral color palette
The patio floor is unpatterned concrete in pristine white.
The chairs and tables, from the 1966 Collection by Richard Schultz, are also white.
Why it works: Neutral colors are restful to look at, and here, they frame views rather than compete with them.
Adapt the idea: Try pewter-colored furniture with blue-gray cushions on bluestone pavers, or teak with sandy peach fabric on Arizona flagstone.
7 of 8Photography by Jennifer Cheung
Create an oasis
“I wanted to create the feeling of a David Hockney pool painting. A simple rectangle of blue”, says Kissinger.
His oasis features date and Bismarck palms in the background.
Why it works: A place that indulges your senses and feels like an escape can be as relaxing as a spa visit or an island vacation.
Get the feeling: Find a scenic spot away from the house. Set up a Bali-style teahouse (eastwestteahouse.net), or just sling a hammock.
8 of 8Photography by Jennifer Cheung
Less is more
Kissinger’s mantra: Provide enough detail to make the garden feel like a relaxing retreat, but not an iota more. Less clutter, less stress―isn’t that what we all crave?