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For The Garden

Moment of Impact

Author: Carly Scholl
Issue: April, 2018, Page 40
photography Art Holeman

Tucked into a boulder outcropping in the rocky hills of North Scottsdale, John and Cheryl Krause’s home needed a show-stopping front entrance that matched the desert landscape surrounding the rest of the property. Landscape designer Chad Norris knew just how to help.
Strategically placed boulders, native plants and one surprising specimen cactus greet guests in a dramatic fashion

When you come home after a long day, your house should greet you with a sense of arrival and accomplishment,” says landscape designer Chad Norris. “And that experience should start before you even walk in the door.” When the Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner was contacted by homeowners John and Cheryl Krause to redesign the front entrance of their North Scottsdale home, Norris knew from the first look that the landscaping would need a healthy dose of drama expertly blended into the surrounding desert environment.

Where unsightly scrub brush once cluttered and concealed the Krauses’ lovely hillside abode, organic yet intentional native plant groupings and boulder formations now attractively frame the home’s facade.
“In the original view of our property from the street, it was almost impossible to see our home through the dense, overgrown foliage,” says John, who had previously worked with Norris on two other personal projects. “Our goal in hiring Chad was to open everything up to create some ‘street appeal.’ One of our first objectives was to remove several truckloads of existing plant material so that our unique home could be seen from the street. Only then could we start the project with a clean canvas.”

After removing the scrub brush, trees and plants along the winding driveway, Norris focused on fixing a glaring inconsistency. “The Krauses’ lot is unique in that it is nestled into a natural boulder outcropping, but those boulders are prominent everywhere around the house except for the front entry,” explains the landscape designer. To correct this, he installed 3- and 4-ton boulders in organic but deliberate formations to designate specific planting areas along the entrance. Norris filled in the new landscape with groupings of native plant species to make the whole front yard seem like it had been designed by nature.

With rugged boulders as their backdrop, sculptural Agave americana ‘Marginata,’ cacti and purple lantana greet the Krauses and their guests en route up the driveway.
But his vision didn’t stop there. Originally, at the top of the driveway, flat, raised planting beds flanked the curving double stairway leading to the front door. Where the two staircases part and converge, a tall, cylindrical space was formed in which the previous owners had installed a lackluster water feature.

Norris recalls, “There just wasn’t an impactful, destination feel at the arrival.” At first, the designer didn’t quite know what to do with the architectural space, but he understood it needed to be special. After taking copious measurements and visiting his nursery in search of appropriate plantings, Norris discovered what would become the jewel in the landscape’s crown: an enormous organ pipe cactus. Towering at nearly 15'H, the specimen would fit comfortably between the two staircases.

 “Everybody on my team thought I was crazy and said the cactus would be too big, but I was certain it would be just right,” says Norris. “Little by little, we lowered it in with a crane and, just as I thought, it was a perfect fit. When we finished planting the cactus, it literally looked as if it had grown there from seed, and it became the focal point of the exterior where everything originated from and played off of.”

To complete the show-stopping look, Norris removed the raised planting beds altogether and filled in the remaining space around the organ pipe with smaller cacti and succulents, making the stairway entry the uninhibited focus of the home’s exterior. Now, thanks to Norris’ ingenuity and implicit understanding of natural desert landscapes, the home’s facade strikes an uncanny balance between continuity with the surrounding land and eye-catching drama.

“We have been blessed to have had some wonderful homes,” says John. “But this one is special. This one is a sanctuary.”

A vignette of golden barrel cacti, Parry’s agave (Agave parryi) and lush rosemary forms a tapestry of textures set against picturesque views of distant mountains.

A statuesque organ pipe cactus takes center stage in the front motor court. Dual stairways curve upward to the front door, providing an up-close multi-angle experience with the perfectly placed specimen.
Verdant species of cacti and desert plants create a dynamic composition atop the driveway’s retaining wall.


A porte-cochere that curves around beneath the front staircases showcases an unexpected, artistic peek at the organ pipe cactus out front.

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