I didn’t take my camera to dinner…

I had dinner last night at a friend’s house in a older section of Tempe. Imagine walking up to a garden gate to find a treasure on the other side. Peach trees overloaded with fruit, dogs lounging in the shade and yapping underfoot, a container garden, pots of dried and fresh flowers, and chickens. A large deck, with a hole cut in the center to accommodate a huge mulberry tree strung with tiny white lights, holds a few benches and a long table with a tiny chandelier hung above. The table was set with a handful of odd chairs and held hundreds of tiny white peaches, already plucked from another tree. Around the bend of the yard was a pool of fish, pets kept only to keep the mosquitoes away from the irrigated yard.

Entering the home, you push through a large glass door that has been painted by a local artist using native themes. The walls are plastered and the kitchen is painted a bright orange. Letterpress lithographs are framed on the walls — celebrating academics from the nearby university and their accomplishments and speeches. A bunch of handwoven baskets crowds above one kitchen cabinet. A stack of handmade ceramic ¬†bowls teeters on a low kitchen island shelf. The saltillo tile has been cut into flower patterns and the rusty color is beautiful against the bright walls. The living room walls have tiny native plants painted here and there. There is a painted hummingbird in one alcove and a giant phoenix rising from the ashes above the doorway to a library overwhelmed with books.

I couldn’t dream of a more incredible home and I saw all of 1000 square feet of one portion.

It was at the kitchen table where I met three other friends last night. We sat, enjoying hummus and a block of French cheese with bowls of chips and crackers, and plotted how we are going to create meaningful programs for those interested in creating similarly spectacular gardens in the Phoenix area. Before last night, I couldn’t have even imagined a space so incredible within a 2 minute drive of my tiny home. After the dinner meeting, I couldn’t dream of not having a home just like it.

We are planning so many great events for the upcoming year with the Phoenix Permaculture Guild (which now has a new and fancy name — Valley Permaculture Alliance), including a series of gardening classes that will start with a dirt backyard and during a several month process, be transformed by teachers and participants into functioning gardens. Not just gardens that grow gorgeous flowers and pretty herbs. Gardens that provide fresh fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods of our city where these luxuries are as hard to find as savings accounts and college educations. We’ll seek out families who are interested in gardens but don’t have the know-how to make it happen and we’ll create a community around the project. Ideally, we’ll replace bags of fast food with plates of homegrown goodness.

I was so fired up about the work at hand, I had a hard time sleeping. Pair this with a native foods cookbook I’m going to work on in conjunction with mesquite and carob milling, and tree day — where we’ll see thousands of fruit trees planted in the Valley — and you can feel my excitement.

If you live in the desert Southwest and are interested in gardening but feel intimidated, let’s talk. I’ll resort to my favorite personal tagline: if I can do it, so can a trained monkey.I’m telling you — there is little else I find as rewarding as taking my tiny (and I mean TINY) piece of land and making it productive. Plus, the fruits of the labor are delicious.