After a wave of closures, new metro Phoenix nurseries bring plants back to the people.

Garden Variety

Written by Arren Kimbel-Sannit Category: Valley News Issue: August 2016
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The Bosque (above)

Location: 214 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix

Quick Pitch: Exotic and eccentric plants in a Downtown Phoenix boutique 

Owner: Michael Lanier Loan III

Opened: July 2015

In his boutique nursery, The Bosque, Michael Lanier Loan III takes indoor plants to a new level. With 300 plants from six continents (he tried to grow a grass native to Antarctica, to no avail), Lanier labors to highlight the aesthetic of eccentric breeds – air plants, for example, or miniature pine trees, or even some mutated plants with bright white leaves. “They’re pieces of living art in your home,” he says. For Lanier, it’s also about giving back to your community. With minimal yard space and lots of concrete, Downtown is radiantly hot and cramped, so smaller non-desert plants are perfect to add variety to an otherwise stuffy appartment as well as to help cool the air. “The plants aren’t secondary, they’re not leftovers,” Lanier says. “We’ve put a highlight on each specimen, and we explain how it got there evolutionarily.” 

Dig It Urban Gardens
and Nursery

Location: 3015 N. 16th St., Phoenix

Quick Pitch: Plants, trees and more in a hip environment complete with DJ table and lively macaws

Owners: Nursery pros Ryan Jerrell and Tim Bishop 

Opened: October 2015

The popular image of a plant nursery is relatively subdued, with moms and other green thumbs whiling away their time among corridors of plant matter. That stereotype is totally defied by Dig It Urban Gardens and Nursery co-owner Ryan Jerrell – with tattoo-covered arms, a sleek haircut and the occasional obscenity, he’s bringing horticulture to the people. Dig It opened not long after Central Phoenix mainstay Baker Nursery closed a year earlier, and Jerrell said he hopes to fill that void. “We wanted to be something that just doesn’t exist here,” he says. That means more than just having plants – though they aren’t in short supply. Rather, it means making the nursery just as much of an event space as anything else, with classes, DJ tables and plans for a coffee kiosk courtesy of Cartel Coffee. “We tried to combine having plant material with having a presence in art and culture,” Jerrell says

A Tropical Concept
Plant Nursery

Location: 4302 S. Central Ave., Phoenix 

Quick Pitch: A tropical oasis in South Phoenix with exotic and edible plants and fruit 

Owners: Kimberly and Dan Vallen 

Opened: January 2010 

Most folks would not expect mango trees, bananas and other tropical fruit to be growing on an old lot in South Phoenix – but with enough water and determination, they will grow in abundance, says Tropical Concept Plant Nursery co-owner Dan Vallen. Vallen and his wife Kimberly opened the nursery six years ago, and since then it’s become the go-to place for those looking to spice up their gardens with something exotic. The couple grows all sorts of weird and wonderful plants, including mangoes, lychee, bananas, sapote, Japanese plums, cherries, berries, guava and passion fruit. Ponds full of fish and roaming peacocks double down on the exotic feel. Despite what some might think, it all grows well in Phoenix, Vallen says – the temperature here isn’t much different than in the tropics, it’s just drier, and Vallen has the experience to make sure everything survives: “I’ve been killing plants for 20 years, so I can tell you how not to kill yours.”

PHX Renews

Main Location: 4221 N. Central Ave., Phoenix

Quick Pitch: Community gardens, art and activity space in the heart of Phoenix

Owner: Tom Waldeck, President and CEO of Keep Phoenix Beautiful

Opened: September 2013

Phoenix has an empty lot problem. Acres of space sit unused, in a sort of developmental purgatory. PHX Renews, an initiative under nonprofit organization Keep Phoenix Beautiful, addresses this problem through gardening. The initiative’s most visible presence is on the 15-acre lot on the northeast corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road, which, up until 2013, sat unused. The lot is owned by Barron Collier Companies, but Keep Phoenix Beautiful cut them a deal: For one dollar a year, the space can be used for community gardens, but it all has to be cleared out if the developer decides to build or sell. The deal has worked well so far. The space is leased to organizations like the International Rescue Committee, which helps refugees grow crops to sell at farmers’ markets, and the whole lot is flood-irrigated with canal water. There are 150 garden beds as well, which people can lease for six months at a time at no cost – just apply on the PHX Renews website.