Arcadia Color Garden Puts Down Roots
The new nursery offers a fresh take on local gardening.
By John Roark
As a Valley landmark for 45 years, Phoenix’s Baker Nursery was a mainstay for avid gardeners, aspiring green thumbs and those who were content to simply wander the grounds and take in the sights and scents of desert-friendly flora. Encompassing more than 8 acres, the family-run nursery was known for its casual vibe; friendly, knowledgeable employees; and a broad range of flowering plants, cacti and succulents, shrubs and garden supplies.
Baker’s 2014 closure came as a shock to many. The original owners, Jim and Colette Baker, had passed away, and their daughters had helmed the business for several years. “It wasn’t easy for us to sell the land we had grown up on,” recalls Bonnie Baker. “The most memorable events of our lives happened there. It was a difficult decision, but it was time for us to move on.” The land was developed into The Villas at Baker Park, a gated community of luxury homes flanking a community park populated with several the nursery’s original plants, including a 75-year-old silk floss tree that was a fixture of the nursery during its lifetime.
What happened next came as a sign, both literally and figuratively, says Tommy Jones, who worked for the Baker family for more than 40 years. “I got a call from Mary, the eldest Baker daughter, asking if I wanted the nursery’s original signage before it was torn down and scrapped. I didn’t know what I’d do with it, but I didn’t hesitate in saving it. I felt like I couldn’t just let it go.”
Meeting informally once a week to talk gardening and catch up on each other’s lives, the former Baker employees recognized a real need for a neighborhood nursery that could fill the void left by the closure. “As soon as Baker shut its doors, I started getting calls from homeowners and landscapers asking, ‘Where are we going to go now?’ Meanwhile every day that old neon sign was staring at me. We all agreed that we wanted to do something new that would capitalize on our previous experience, and we were excited about broadening our reach in such areas as xeriscapes, succulents and organic vegetables.”
Jones began scouting land and eventually found a 2-acre parcel on 52nd St. north of McDowell Road that had been owned by a palm tree cutter. “The lot was an overgrown mess,” he recalls. “There was a wild horse, donkeys and chickens walking around.” After six months of haggling, a deal was struck, and 18 months later Arcadia Color Garden Nursery opened to the public. The vision, says Jones, was to create a destination for who he calls gardeners at heart.
“There are homeowners who want a beautiful landscape and have the means to have someone else create and maintain it for them,” he says. “But we’re here for those who really enjoy rolling up their sleeves and aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty.”
Owned by Jones and staffed by 10 former Baker’s employees, the new nursery is gaining momentum thanks to social media and word of mouth, and has set itself apart from other Valley garden sources by carrying plants beyond the ordinary. “We appreciate the diversity of what can be grown in the desert,” says nursery manager Julie Moody. “Gardeners enjoy finding something they haven’t seen anywhere else, whether it’s an unusual succulent, a type of citrus you don’t often come across or even indigenous heirloom vegetables. We love providing that element of surprise and delight.”
Jones’ brother Bill, Arcadia Color Garden’s operations manager, stresses that while the new space would never have happened without the Baker legacy, they are forging their own way. “We’ve worked very hard at keeping that brand alive because it’s such an important part of the history of Phoenix. We want to honor those good times. But more than that, we want to establish ourselves as our own place guided by our own voice and vision. We want to be the neighborhood nursery that you trust, where you can geek out on gardening and find plants and products you didn’t even know were out there.”
NEW YEAR, NEW GARDEN
The Arcadia Color Garden Nursery staff shares their tips for starting 2019 off right.
Be prepared to protect tender plants from the cold. Have frost cloth on hand for those unpredictable temperature spikes.
January is the time to prune your roses by removing one-third to one-half of growth and cutting out the oldest canes. Wait until February to feed.
Prune grape vines and deciduous fruit trees, such as peaches, apples and figs. They will be ready to burst out with new growth as the season warms.
Shop for seeds and bulbs to start in February. Take time now to turn the soil in your gardens and raised beds to prepare for spring plantings of tomatoes, peppers, onions, greens and herbs.
Install cold-hardy shrubs and vines now so that they are acclimated to their new homes before our summer heat kicks up.
Control winter weeds before they go to seed. In lawns as well as in nonplanted areas, spraying or removing weeds early will help keep additional weed seed
Apply pre-emergent weed preventers to inhibit summer/warm-season weeds from germinating.
Continue to feed winter lawns with a nitrate-based fertilizer, such as Four Seasons Lawn Food.
Invite the unexpected into your landscape. Have fun and experiment with something unusual, such as these distinctive plants we carry:
• Prized by chefs, the Australian finger lime (Citrus australasica) bears fruit filled with tangy caviarlike juice vesicles that can be used in recipes or as garnish.
• The climbing silver dollar plant (Xerosicyos danguyi) does well in extreme heat and can reach a mature size of 12’H by 6’W.
• The fruit of the variegated pink lemon (Citrus limon ‘Variegated Pink’) features a showy striped rind and pink flesh.
Oleander alternatives from Arcadia Color Garden:
The oleander has long been a staple in Valley landscapes because it grows quickly and is virtually maintenance-free. In recent years, the bacterial disease oleander scorch (Xylella fastidiosa) has claimed many plants. “People have gotten discouraged and removed oleanders from their yards,” says Arcadia Color Garden Nursery operations manager Bill Jones, who offers these suggestions that can provide beauty, privacy and color.
Sour orange tree hedge (Citrus aurantium)—This popular thorny evergreen can easily be trained into a virtually impenetrable hedge. White flowers provide springtime fragrance, and although not edible, the fruit adds a cheerful pop of color in the fall.
Green hopseed bush (Dodonaea Viscosa “Green”)—Sun-loving and drought-tolerant, this evergreen plant’s dense green or purple foliage can easily be trained into a hedge. Available in wide- and thin-leaf varieties, green hopseed requires little maintenance, making it a good choice near pools or patios.
Texas Olive (Cordia boissieri)—With showy white and yellow blooms in spring and fall, this slow-growing perennial shrub thrives in full sun and well-drained soil.