This month’s Backyard Garden Spotlight focus is Anne Till. However, both backyard and garden are understatements—it’s more like a food forest surrounding her house! Needless to say, I didn’t need a GPS to find her place. The front yard has dozens of varieties of desert plants, both edible and decorative. They are centered on a gorgeous pond with a waterfall coming directly out of the center of the rock. She said this kind of waterfall is designed to attract hummingbirds, and believe me, it works. I saw at least five while we sat on her front porch.
On our tour of her front yard, she described every single plant by name and what it produces. That might not seem impressive at first, but keep in mind that she has, my best guess, well over 100 different types of plants.
The front yard has two parts. One side is mostly decorative plants—those that produce flowers and look amazing. The other side has those that produce fruits: grapes, peppers, figs, apples, and many more. We quickly got to a point where it was futile to write down everything she was growing.
As we moved into the backyard, she showed me the raised beds beside her house with peppers and berries and an interesting watering vessel called an oya. Basically, it’s two clay planting pots glued together and sealed on one end. You bury it in the dirt with the top just above the soil so you can pour water inside. The water then slowly seeps through the pot providing consistent water to the surrounding plants. I’d seen similar things but never this exactly. It’s such a brilliant idea and very cheap.
Almost every square inch had something growing in the backyard. How many varieties? Her best guess was between 60-70 different kinds of fruit, including about 29 varieties of apples, 6-7 different kinds of pomegranates, and a few different kinds of apricots, plums, and peaches. Not to mention peanuts, peppers, bananas, pineapple, and so much more.
Impressively, she’s able to do all this in an average-size house…even with the pool. The key, she says, is grafting different varieties: taking a cutting from one type and joining it into an established tree. For example, she has three different kinds of apples on one tree. I was blown away by her technical expertise and knowledge and the fact that she’s been able to accomplish so much in her backyard with relatively little space. But it doesn’t end there.
Anne is also very active in her Tempe community’s horticulture. She helped create a community “micro park” across the street from Curry Elementary School, as well as trees and a floating garden in Selleh park.
Her advice she has for beginners, or even experienced gardeners: “Experiment and don’t try to micromanage. Sometimes bugs happen or plants die. Just keep trying something until it works. You don’t need to spend a lot. Start with planting in the ground. I started with herbs planted in pots from a big-box store. There are many great local Facebook gardening and fruit tree sites to get advice, and plenty on YouTube as well.”
Here are some great websites that she offered:
Info from water harvesting expert, Brad Lancaster
Desert Rivers Audubon. The Tour De Bird is not listed right now. Usually, it’s the first week of November but they had moved it to March 2021 because of COVID.
Free “chip drops.” I asked for no eucalyptus or oleander or thorns and got mostly citrus and desert tree chips. It’s a large amount but fits perfectly to create a 6” layer in my yard.
A great fruit tree pruning book: How to Prune Fruit Trees.
Backyard fruit tree growing. It’s worth flipping through the pages on the right-hand side; well-organized info for creating a backyard fruit tree orchard.
Written by Tim Taylor for the Arizona Sustainability Alliance