The Minimalist Arizona Garden That Turns Water Away
Who knew monsoon rains could inspire such sleek beauty?
The term minimalism isn’t always associated with gardens, but this stone-on-stone outdoor space in Sedona has a decidedly minimalistic 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 was 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 them 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 sixty-foot-long bridge approaches 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 sunset, the gravel they chose contains the perfect 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.
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.
As for the plants, Cleland partnered with a plant specialist named Larry Anderson from 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 from neighbors.)
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.”
Now onto the most important question—how do his parents like the results? Says Cleland with a laugh, “They are really, really happy, and I get daily updates on how the monsoon irrigation is going.”