Who knew monsoon rains could inspire such sleek beauty?

Clelands on Bridge
Homeowners Carole and George Cleland. Photo by Thomas J. Story.

The term minimalism isn’t always associated with gardens, but this stone-on-stone outdoor space in Sedona, Arizona, has a decidedly minimalist feel. Which is not to say it is all about looks alone. Just the opposite: This garden was built to channel and absorb the monsoon rains that hit this part of Arizona every summer. The newly built home and garden were both created with VIP clients in mind—the designer’s parents. Colin Cleland, a partner at the architecture firm Schiller Projects in New York, says he felt proud that his parents loved his work enough to have him design the home where they wanted to “age gracefully in place.”

The site, Cleland says, was tricky. “It is deeply sloped and challenging both to build on and drain water off of,” he says, adding, “Sedona is in the high desert, which means the house has to react to a wide range of weather conditions.” Cleland approached these conditions by carefully paying attention to the natural topography of the landscape. At the home’s entrance, a 60-foot-long bridge leads to the house from the road. Underneath, a gravel-and-rock channel directs rainwater under the bridge and away from the home. To emphasize the view and the sunset, the gravel they chose contains a complementary shade of light pink. “Because of the commanding views, we really saw the landscape and the plants as the foreground to the mountains that form the background,” he says.

Monsoon Garden Aerial View
An aerial view of the house and garden.

Thomas J. Story

The rock channel brings the water around to the back of the home where there is a stormwater retention pond that was built with rock found on-site. “It’s essentially a rock drainage area that is just a lined basin that allows water to sit in it in times of extreme conditions,” Cleland explains. This way if a big monsoon comes, the water is directed to the retention area and doesn’t flow into the arroyo below, which can flood.

Retention Channels
River-rock-lined retention channels capture and slow down rainwater while creating visual interest and providing supplemental deep irrigation for surrounding plantings.

Thomas J. Story

As for the plants, Cleland partnered with specialist Larry Anderson, of Anderson Landscaping. The idea was to be “light on the land” while eschewing non-native species. Around the retention pond, they planted Overdam grass and scrub oak, both of which have a strong enough root structure to survive that close to a drainage area. As the garden matures, the grass will fill in the gaps, while ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress trees add contrast and really pop. (When these trees grow in, they’ll also provide privacy.)

Elsewhere on the property, they used strawberry hedgehog cactuses, banana yuccas, and agaves. “These plants are lower profile than what you’d see in Phoenix,” says Cleland. “Sedona is at 4,350 feet above sea level so we’re really only dealing with cactuses that make this a special place.