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For The Garden

Midwest Muse

Author: Lori A. Johnson
Issue: March, 2017, Page 48
Photos by Art Holeman

Clockwise from left: Variegated black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) n Chromatella waterlily (Nymphea ‘Marliacea Chromatella’) n ‘Forever Abundant’ daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Forever Abundant’) n Gladiolus ‘White Prosperity’ n Blue passion flower (Passiflora caerulea)
An enthusiastic Arizona gardener pays homage to her native region

For a taste of Chicago in Arizona, head north to Prescott Valley, where Nancy Gibson’s garden brings the Windy City to the Grand Canyon State. A vast array of trees more typically associated with Illinois’ Morton Arboretum than with the Sonoran Desert populate the yard, while Nancy’s collection of perennials brings to mind the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Nancy Gibson studied desert gardening before beginning the transformation of her yard. A selection of favorite perennial flowers is shown above.
That’s just what Nancy wanted when she moved here from Illinois 18 years ago. She chose Prescott Valley because she knew she’d be able to grow many of her favorite plants more easily in the middle desert than she could in the Valley of the Sun. She also liked the idea of having a change of seasons similar to those she was used to in the Midwest. The sweeping views of the surrounding mountain ranges were an added bonus.

Because the house is located on a corner lot, there’s no clear distinction between the front, side or back yards. This allows Nancy to treat the entire landscape as a single, continuous garden that flows from one vignette to the next. After learning more about desert gardening, she was ready to transform her yard, which except for a few trees, was a blank slate suitable for a Midwest-inspired design.

Koi and goldfish populate Nancy’s pond year-round, while bees, butterflies and birds visit seasonally.
Rearrange and Redesign
Other than getting some assistance with digging a new pond, Nancy did all of the work herself. “It’s a great feeling to see what you can accomplish if you just set your mind to it,” she says. She recalls relocating several trees to areas more to her liking. These included a silver maple that was planted just outside her back patio and a juniper that she dug out and dragged with her truck to the back corner of her property. “The juniper was not one of my favorites, but I didn’t want to kill it,” she says. “Now, it is thriving and stands more than 25 feet tall, and the maple, which was originally about 2 to 3 inches by caliper, provides wonderful shade in the summer. I can barely reach my arms around it.” She also added a forest of trees that includes bald cypress, coral bark maple, dawn redwood, dogwood, eastern white pine, English oak, hornbeam, linden magnolia, Oriental spruce, tricolor beech and tulip tree. 

Nancy also wasn’t a fan of the lot’s original hardscaping, particularly the cobble and rock borders on the raised beds that faced the side street. She replaced them with Windsor block. “I liked the look of the blocks, so I added them in several other areas as I went,” she says. “I ended up using the cobbles in the rock and rail fence I built rounding the corner of the lot and in the arbor on the side of the garage.”

Nancy used soil dug out from the pond to build up the sides of the pump house. She planted a living roof with varieties of sedum, iris, coreopsis and ornamental grass. The stones were hand-collected and mortared into place for a natural look.
Flora, Fauna and Flowing Water
A main feature of the yard is a new pond that Nancy installed, inspired by those she had seen on annual tours presented by the Midwest Pond and Koi Society in Chicago, of which she was a member. “I knew I wanted a stream and needed something to hide the filter and pump and to store supplies,” Nancy recalls. “I liked the idea of having a living roof, and the pump house was the perfect place.”

Soil removed to make space for the  pond was used to build the stream and the sides around the pump house. Nancy collected the stones by hand and mortared each in place for a natural look. “I like having the boulders interspersed with plants,” she says. “I have repeated that concept throughout the garden.” The pump house’s living roof consists of several varieties of sedum, iris, coreopsis and ornamental grass. A large arbor to one side helps block the view from the street and provides a backdrop of prolific passionflower blooms for a pondside lounge area.

Part of Nancy’s faces collection, this ceramic piece that represents the blowing wind hangs near the back patio.
Always Evolving
Of course, a gardener’s work is never done. Nancy is always looking for inspiration for the next phase of her garden transformation. One of her newest projects is a living wall planted between the front porch railings, which she estimates contains as many as 15 varieties of sedum. A growing collection of hostas—upwards of 70 different varieties in various sizes—is also a recent obsession.

Nancy admits that she loves all of her plants—so much so that she can’t really name a favorite. “Each day, something different catches my eye, and it becomes the most beautiful and my favorite,” she says.

Nancy has truly created a garden for all seasons. “In the early spring, the hundreds of bulbs that have waited patiently underground come to life ready to kick off a new growing season,” she says. “I enjoy looking out the front dining room windows during the winter to view the pond, and during the summer I love sitting on the front porch in the shade and listening to the running water and looking at all of the glorious blooms.” It’s a little slice of the Midwest in her corner of Arizona.

The front yard’s centerpiece is a large pond built by the homeowner. A mix of water lilies and parrots feather creates a lush, verdant look.

The gardener incorporates a number of sun- and moon-face art pieces throughout her garden.

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