DIG IT Urban Gardens + Nursery is so Downtown Phoenix. The boutique nursery on 16th Street, just north of Thomas, sits on a small lot with lots of desert flora framed by a cement box of a shop covered in a bright mural of a skeleton with a saguaro growing out of its head. Co-founder Ryan Jerrell says when he and his business partner Tim Bishop launched in the fall of 2015, they wanted to offer Phoenix urbanites a break from the big box stores where they usually buy their trendy succulents. “A garden center should be a place where people can come on their lunch break” and have a more “hang-out vibe,” Jerrell says.
Celebrating DIG IT's one year anniversary this weekend with a birthday party, Jerrell hopped on the phone with me to answer some questions about the growth of urban gardening (and give me a tip or two on my pesky habit of killing every green thing I come in contact with).
What made him want to set up shop in Downtown Phoenix?
Jerrell – who grew up in the East Valley – says large nurseries have tended to venture into the Valley's “suburban sprawl.” But the landscaping in these neighborhoods don't have a lot of bio diversity. “It's very bland, in my opinion,” he says, pointing to various homeowner association rules that dictate “you can't plant that, you can't have any of those in the yard....leading to poor landscape design.” Plus, there's not enough focus on permaculture, Jerrell says.
Wait, what's permaculture?
“Having a landscape that is permanent and is going to sustain itself in the long run,” he explains. “Once things are established, they become a permanent fixture.” In the desert, that means finding a balance that ultimately decreases the amount of water required to keep things alive, Jerrell says – and not just with plants but with the right kind of soil and benefitial seed spreaders and pollinators (think: birds and insects).
Did he see a need for this in the more city-like, cement-filled Downtown area?
“I think it was more of a selfish need...we live down here,” Jerrell says. But more than that, after working for large growers and a big box store, he says there was a lack of plant retailers that really felt like part of the community – a place to ask questions about plants and get a “solid answer,” or simply to hang out.
Downtown Phoenix is in the midst of developing its own unique voice, he says – whatever it is that differentiates Phoenix from Chicago or Los Angeles or Downtown Cleveland. “We are a garden center that doesn't just offer plants,” Jerrell says – that means hosting how-to classes, throwing parties, partnering with local nonprofits (the 1 anniversary party is benefiting One N Ten, which assists LGBTQ youth) – “anything we can do to give back.”
Are we in prime gardening season right now? What should we be planting? And how can I stop myself from killing another plant?
“October, the middle of October, is prime planting season,” he says. “We get a little pocket of time to get stuff in the ground” when the weather cooperates. Get plants in now, and there's a decent “period of acclimation before the heat comes,” he says. As for what to plant, he says local is the way to go – at DIG they grow all their seedlings here in the Valley (compared to big box stores that may outsource that to farms elsewhere in the U.S. that don't have the same climate as us). He also suggests paying attention to weather on a day-to-day basis. While the weather currently fluctuates from pleasant to too-warm, he says, we may still need to water every day.
If you go....
DIG IT 1 Year Celebration
When: Saturday, Oct. 8, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: DIG IT Urban Gardens + Nursery
3015 N. 16th St., Phoenix
What: A grill-out with free hamburgers and hotdogs from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., live music, raffles for local prizes, shop the latest plants for fall landscaping.
Photos taken by Agnes Art & Photo
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