A Desert Highlands Home Initiates a Dialogue With its Surroundings
A Desert Highlands home initiates a dialogue with its surroundings.
By Lauren Tyda | Photography by Austin LaRue Baker
Situated among a constellation of boulders in the Desert Highlands, a humble hideaway blends into its natural surrounds. “Everything about this house is nestled and protected,” says Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning landscape architect Donna Winters. “You feel like you’re entering into the scene versus already knowing the story, like you’re meant to discover the house among the landscape.”
The entry to the courtyard is framed by a canopy of trees that dapple sunlight onto the stone-paved driveway. Pull a wooden dowel on the gate to enter the courtyard, where the ceiling of trees continues, creating its own microclimate in hotter months. “You feel like you’ve come into a special place,” Winters states. “That’s just one of the trademarks of this house—it feels like you’re under a roof that just happens to be the trees and different forms and textures that play off of the wonderfully massive walls.” Boulders and cacti lead up to a display of potted plants beneath Moroccan-style light fixtures and rain chains that open into the home’s entry.
Wander over to the side of the house, and there is a walkway of stone pavers that leads to the back, where floor-to-ceiling windows create a quiet transition between the interiors, the poolscape and gardens. “As you get closer to the architecture, we placed pots with various kinds of cacti and succulents,” Winters says. “It has that very inside-outside feel to it.”
The vessels themselves blend with the Pueblo Revival-style architecture of the home, which was intentional. Winters originally worked on the property in tandem with fellow Masters of the Southwest award-winning architect Lash McDaniel, who thoughtfully crafted the dwelling with discretion in mind, respecting the nature of the property. “The home is not something man-made or imposed on the site but, rather, it is of the site,” Winters explains. “Those are the things that really attracted me to this place and to enhancing it. It’s more about how the vegetation plays against the structure and the form, the shadows and the textures.”
After several years of falling into disrepair by prior owners, the gardens received a much-needed refresh when seasonal residents Ann and Brian Balusek purchased the home in 2018. “They totally love the naturalness of the Sonoran Desert,” Winters states. “They appreciate the cacti and the different forms in this habitat and are not trying to make it be something it’s not.”
Winters and her team reconfigured the existing plantings, added new ones and expanded the array of pots. “She took many of the plants out of the landscape and laid them in the driveway and split them into pieces and redid the yard with those existing plants, which we found fascinating,” Ann says.
Now that the enhancements are complete, the couple enjoys discovering new cacti and succulents for their gardens, as well as entertaining the various visiting wildlife. “I love when spring hits where everything is blooming, and we see all the different butterflies and birds coming in,” Ann says. “And it’s right outside our window.”
Brian agrees: “The fascinating part of the gardens is that from almost anywhere in the house you see cactus and feel like you are in the desert. We like to garden, and it’s mesmerizing to be in an environment that is different than anything we have ever known.”
“You feel like you’re entering into a scene versus already knowing the story, like you’re meant to discover the house among the landscape.”
—Donna Winters, landscape architect
Architect: Lash McDaniel, Lash McDaniel Design, Phoenix, mcdaniel-schouten.com. Landscape architect: Donna Winters, Enchanted Garden Landscapes Inc., Phoenix, enchantedgardenaz.com. Assisting landscape design: Austin Schroeder, enchantedgardenaz.com. Container plant designs: Patricia Rossi, enchantedgardenaz.com.