Cutting-Edge Irrigation Makes Possible Landscaping in Mojave Desert

Sage Design Studios created a lush, showcase-worthy Southwestern landscape using integrated terraces and drought-tolerant plants.  

Modern Southwest Yard Gabion Wall and Drought Resistant Plant

Drought Resistant Plant and Gabion Wall in Modern Southwestern Yard

This eco-friendly Southwestern style landscaping features modern terraced steps to lead to the home's front door. The plants featured in this garden are drought resistant to stand up to the extreme temperatures of this home's desert location. Other aspects of this design include sustainable materials such as reclaimed stone for the gabion wall and the stone that requires no watering.

Photo by: Jonathan Spears, ASLA

Jonathan Spears, ASLA

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What did your clients want?

The purpose of the New American Home (NAH) from a landscape architectural approach is to showcase the latest cutting-edge irrigation and lighting technology, along with a bold planting style that embraces the harsh Mojave Desert climate while complementing the architectural design.

What was your biggest obstacle?

Modern Home Exterior Gets Pop of Color with Cactus Plants

Cactus Plants Give Modern Home Exterior a Pop of Color

The homeowners did not forget the side yard when they did their renovations. The contemplation pool is lined with cactus plants-a drought resistant plant that will thrive in the hot summer months. The green of the cactus plant gives a pop of color to the grey stone of the house, while the dark gray stones that rest around the cactus plants give the space an elegant look.

Photo by: Jonathan Spears, ASLA

Jonathan Spears, ASLA

With so many microclimates on the property, plant species and their groupings had to be specific to their immediate surroundings. The site ranges from full exposure to all-day summer sun to shaded canyon-like ravines. Personalized plant palettes were designated for each area, giving each space a unique yet relative appearance. We lost some variegated smooth agave to a February frost, which could have been avoided if they’d been planted earlier in the fall.

How did you design the landscaping?

We maximize the conditions and design restrictions of every site, and work to complement the elements, not compete with them. In respect to the modular composition of the structure, plantings should represent the same rhythm throughout the exterior. The cantilevered design of rooflines over patios and sunrooms allows for light to penetrate the structure while keeping heat out. Shade trees with their broad canopies and cooling evapotranspirative qualities assist in cooling these spaces.

What’s your favorite feature?

The amazing front entry is the epitome of design with purpose. We created it out of a very steep, shallow space. By incorporating directional changes, a cohesive palette of materials and properly proportioned landscape areas with iconic plantings, this residence introduces the guest in a provocative and inviting manner.

Why did you use the gabion wall to complement the house?

Southwestern Style Landscape with Drought Resistant Plants

Gabion Wall and Drought Resistant Plants with Elegant Gray Stones in Southwestern Style Landscape

This gabion wall was installed in the back of the garden to help prevent erosion in the dry climate. The cacti and the yucca plants give the wall a pop of color, while the grey stones in the flower beds add an elegant touch to this desert landscape.

Photo by: Jonathan Spears, ASLA

Jonathan Spears, ASLA

The gabion wall’s inherent strength and texture act as a segue between structure and landscape. It is a harbinger to the water rill just inside the front courtyard door that runs along the entry path, through the foyer and into the backyard.

How does your exterior design complement the home?

I feel the landscape must directly respond to the structure for a successful execution of the site as a whole. It is crucial to the success of the project.

How did you choose the drought-resistant plants used?

Southwestern Style Home Landscaped with Reclaimed Materials

Reclaimed Materials and Desert Plants Landscape This Southwestern Style Home

The concern for this design was sustainability, so to landscape the exterior of the house, the designers used mostly reclaimed materials, like the stones that make up the gabion wall, and plants that wouldn't require much water, such as the cactus.

Photo by: Jonathan Spears, ASLA

Jonathan Spears, ASLA

There are so many options available that don’t require the intense attention and resources of turf grasses. Ornamental grasses are a passion of mine: no known pests, low water use, color, color, color. They have seed heads that are so beautiful to watch as they sway in the slightest breeze. The heights vary from mere inches to well over 10’ tall; they require about as much maintenance as a cactus. The only issue is the dormant season wasn’t an appropriate fit for this project. Therefore we mainly relied on species that have a perennial track record of green, green, green.

How did you select the different-colored rocks?

The rock mulches were selected to most closely match the house veneers, surfaces and textures. Most were locally sourced except for the Mexican beach pebble. Caution should be exercised when choosing mulches around herbaceous plantings. Cobbles tend to crush and limit the expansion of grasses and other soft materials. Therefore it is better to specify either a wood mulch, if appropriate, or a small (3/8”-diameter) river rock mulch.

What “hidden gems” are in your design?

I personally love the boutique garden area between the library and casita. We had fun with this area incorporating the site’s only curvilinear element. Inspiration came from a ‘60s-style ashtray design. It is an anomaly that causes pause. I am always intrigued by enigmas that stand out. It gives one an opportunity to reflect.

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Sage Design Studios

Sage Design Studios

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Sage Design Studios ASLA 1998 Shady Elm Street Las Vegas, NV 89135 702-303-4714