Subscribe Today
Give a Gift
Customer Service

For the HomeFor the GardenFood & EntertainingResourcesArticle Archive
For The Garden

The Edible Garden

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: December, 2012, Page 59
Photos by Art Holeman

Sydney Dye holds a basket of fresh eggs collected from her backyard chicken coop.

Sydney Dye Creates a Pastoral Setting in her Scottsdale Landscape

For more than two decades, Sydney Dye and her husband, Mike, have gradually been  transforming their once-bare 3-acre lot into one that includes an enclosed orchard and garden room, striking massed plantings, relaxing outdoor living spaces, and an animal pasture.

Originally, the property was part of 150 acres on which the couple raised thoroughbred horses, explains Dye. Before development spread and the acreage was subdivided for housing, “I could look out my kitchen window and see mares and foals grazing on acres of pasture,” she recalls. Maintaining this connection with animals remains important to her, and today, the couple’s small pasture holds assorted donkeys, goats and sheep.

“Children from the neighborhood school visit for field trips, and we help them sow pea, pumpkin or sunflower seeds in newspaper pots that they can take home,” she says. “We all have fun, and their visit helps them to understand where food comes from.”

A henhouse with a gabled roof and wood siding is an unexpected element in this Scottsdale backyard. Edible plants flourish in the mesh-enclosed garden bed.
Garden Room
There’s plenty of food growing on the property for the curious kids to check out. Near the pasture, Dye’s garden beds brim with veggies and herbs used in cooking classes offered through her business, firstFIG Culinary Adventures. The beds—interwoven with lavender, marigolds, roses and other flowers—thrive in a serene enclosed garden “room” that also shelters an orchard, composting area and a stylish shingled chicken coop with hens that lay, on average, seven eggs a day. “It’s relaxing to listen to the chickens while I harvest in the garden,” Dye comments.

“While designing this space, I liked the idea of a separate garden room to walk toward and to access through a gate, giving a sense of destination,” the gardener explains.

The area is surrounded by a block wall that is embedded with wrought-iron openings, allowing glimpses of what lies beyond. Pyracantha plants are trained on decorative cross-hatched trellises on the exterior wall.

During installation, Dye took advantage of this area’s natural sloping topography by adding steps that lead to an upper flat space where she planted an orchard of deciduous fruit trees (see Abundant Fruit, Page 64). “A few steps add to the architecture of a garden, and the elevation change makes it more visually interesting,” she points out.

This outdoor “room,” with its trickling fountain in the rear, is a quiet place to relax. Wire mesh surrounding the bed is for rabbit control.
Multi-tasking Plants
As Dye adds or replaces landscape plants throughout the property, she says she has become more conscious of drought tolerance than when she and her husband built their home as a young couple. “I appreciate the beauty of succulent desert plant shapes, and it is easier to buy a wide variety of species in the nurseries now.”

When considering new trees, she looks for ones that offer multiple characteristics. “I want a plant to do more than fill a spot in the landscape, so I choose plants that I can cook with or add to arrangements,” Dye explains. For example, ‘Wonderful’ pomegranate trees act as a screening hedge along the property line. In spring, they are covered with trumpet-shaped orange blooms that are stunning in floral arrangements. In fall, Dye fills the home with bowls of ruby-red pomegranates and uses the antioxidant-rich seeds, called arils, for recipes.

Similarly, fig trees offer value beyond tasty fruit. Most desert-adapted trees have tiny leaves, but fig leaves are about the size of a salad plate. The attractive, deeply lobed foliage turns gold during cool weather for a seasonal change. Because fig trees sprawl and have considerable leaf drop, Dye planted ‘Brown Turkey’ and ‘Desert King’ figs in out-of-the-way places. If she can get to the ripe fruit before the birds, she makes jam or dries figs with a dehydrator. “I also appreciate the architectural shape the stems add to arrangements,” she observes.

With a landscape that is constantly evolving, Dye says she is fortunate that her husband is a builder. During their travels, they visit botanical gardens for inspiration, taking photos and re-creating elements when they return home. “I design it, and he builds it,” says a smiling Dye. The white footbridge that crosses a wash on their property and leads to an olive grove was adapted from Thomas Jefferson’s historic home in Virginia.

“Landscapes evolve and changes get made,” observes Dye. “It’s OK to live in a space and figure out what’s needed over time. We’ve been here over 25 years, and we still aren’t finished.”

Photos - From left: A small garden patch can hold diverse herbs, such as lemon balm, basil, mint and chives. • A simple tent of hardware cloth protects seedlings from rabbits and quail.

’Tis the Season
Sydney Dye’s business, firstFIG Culinary Adventures, provides private cooking classes featuring local, seasonal and organic ingredients with customized menus and recipes.
  “Fruits and vegetables are more flavorful and nutritious if they haven’t been shipped thousands of miles,” she remarks. If you are an inexperienced cook or gardener, growing a pot of herbs will transform your cooking, notes Dye, who encourages clients to get growing with oregano, thyme and rosemary. “These herbs will provide fresh clippings year-round in our climate.”

She also suggests shopping at farmers markets to support local growers. Not only will you enjoy the benefits of freshly harvested produce, it’s a fun way to learn what grows seasonally to aid in menu planning or to plant in your own garden, says Dye. For more information, visit

Photos - From left: Sawyer, a miniature donkey, eats plant trimmings and produces compost “ingredients.” Pasture droppings, grass clippings, leaves and shavings from the chicken coop are mixed to create nutrient-rich compost for vegetable beds. • Sydney Dye’s landscape produces an abundance of healthy ingredients, including fresh eggs from her chickens.

Tip - For the best eggs, feed chickens grains, vegetable trimmings, and grubs from the compost pile, suggests Sydney Dye. “A varied diet produces a deeper-orange yolk that creates pastry with beautiful color.”

Holiday Cranberry Relish
This delicious and super-simple side dish is crisp and tart and the perfect accompaniment to your holiday meal, says the gardener. “It tastes great on leftover turkey sandwiches as well,” she remarks. “You’ll never eat cranberries from a can again!”

1 pound fresh cranberries
2 tart green apples, cored and roughly chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange marmalade
12-ounce package of frozen raspberries
Lemon juice to taste

COMBINE all ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until well-chopped.
SERVE chilled in a footed compote dish.

The olive orchard holds 28 trees that the Dyes planted from gallon containers 20 years ago. Its shady paths run parallel to the animal pasture.
Abundant Fruit
“Nothing tastes as sweet as fruit picked fresh from your tree,” declares Sydney Dye. Before buying a deciduous fruit tree, she advises determining when that variety’s fruit typically ripens.
Dye prefers fruit that ripens early in the season, so that she can harvest it before the heat hits. Also, realize that some fruits may require two varieties for cross-pollination. If space is limited, choose varieties that are self-pollinating. Her enclosed orchard contains the following:
‘Anna’ apple
‘Calamondin’ (cross between mandarin and kumquat)
‘Eureka’, ‘Improved Meyer’ and ‘Variegated Pink’ lemon
‘Garden Annie’ apricot
‘June Gold’ peach
‘Kaffir’ and ‘Mexican’ (also called Key) lime
‘Moro’ blood orange
‘Nagami’ kumquat
‘Santa Rosa’ and ‘Satsuma’ plum
‘Snow Queen’ and ‘Sunred’ nectarine
‘Valencia’ orange
Subscribe Today!