How to create a clutter-free garden

An Arizona landscaper shows how to banish clutter from your life (or at least your backyard)

The entryway to the home, featuring a frosted glass fence and tall palms.

Jennifer 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.

Arizona garden path

Photography 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.”

Barrel cactus

Photography 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’.

Buddha's head statue

Photography 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.

Three plants potted in minimalist white containers

Photography by Jennifer Cheung

Use one plant per pot

Kissinger set one plant into each white ceramic ‘Cylinder’ container, from Gainey Ceramics (

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.

A simple white patio and chairs.

Photography 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.

Mid-century modern pool patio

Photography 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 (, or just sling a hammock.

A close-up look at a palm tree

Photography 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?

Tour another calming garden

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