Growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area. With a wiener dog.

February 14, 2015

Creating a tropical paradise in the desert of Phoenix, Arizona

Creating a tropical paradise in the desert is an illusion. It's a mirage, an oasis. And that's part of the reason that it's so magical. And yes, it can be done - I have friends all over the valley who have done it, and yes, it takes a lot of tricks. And if you're like me, and you like to see what works, and what doesn't work, here are some suggestions:

• Make friends with local people who have gardens. I got involved with the Arizona Palm and Cycad Association over ten years ago. It's a group of mostly middle-aged men, like me, who have a fascination with palm trees and cycads (sago palms, etc.). It's all well and good to see photos on the internet, or in magazines, of Hawaii, or Australia, but I wanted to know if I could grow these plants right here. And I wanted to see them with my own eyes. The group doesn't have regular meetings anymore, but the guys still get together every once in a while, and I will be visiting our Vice President today along with our Treasurer. I'm the Secretary, by the way, which means being the webmaster.

• Visit public gardens. I live just a few blocks away from the Glendale Public Library, which has a garden that includes various types of plants, including palm trees and agaves. It's nearby Sahuaro Ranch, which I visit quite often. And if a plant can successfully grow there, it can grow in my yard!

• Experiment with the microclimates of your garden. I have a tiny yard, and location is everything. Some plants flourish just a few feet away from where the same plant would die, simply based on how the cold air accumulates in the winter, or the shade in the summer, or about a million other tiny factors. So I plant a lot of stuff. Yes, I've had a lot of failures over the years, but I have a poor memory!

A tropical paradise in the desert is a tiny place, a retreat. It isn't acres of grass, and it isn't cactus and rocks. It's an oasis, a mirage. My favorite place in the whole world.
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