High Desert Delight: Prescott Valley Couple Uses Hillside to Create Garden
A sloping lot in Prescott Valley enchants an avid gardening couple.
By Lori A. Johnson | Photography by Art Holeman
Hillside gardening has its challenges, but for Sandy and Gar Lundgren of Prescott Valley, it also has its opportunities. When the Oregon natives settled in Arizona after falling in love with its terrain during their travels, they specifically chose their hillside lot for its views of Mingus Mountain and a topography that would allow them to create their own versions of the local water features that had inspired them. “Our vacations took us to several of the small springs that turn into ‘upside down streams’ that soon disappear,” Sandy says. “Our waterfall and pond are our attempt to replicate those magical spots you find throughout Yavapai County.”
The Lundgrens bought the high-desert property, selected a house plan that featured large windows for unobstructed views and were ready to settle in. Moving during the summer monsoon season gave the couple a first-hand look at how the hillside handled the rains—they subsequently designed a system of swales to catch the runoff—and Sandy’s experience with Master Gardener programs in Oregon and Arizona came in handy when laying out the rest of the garden. “I love gardening in Arizona and find it easier than in the high desert of central Oregon,” she says. “After dealing with a 90-day growing season and temperatures that can fall below freezing in Bend, this gardening is easy.”
When it came to designing their yard, including the pond and terraces, the couple sought to imitate the elements from nature that had so inspired them. They obtained flagstones from a Perkinsville rock-cutting plant and picked up boulders left behind by a road-grading crew who pushed rocks into the ditch alongside the street. “Gar let the hillside guide him on where to place the pond and each of the boulders,” Sandy recalls. “Being a retired accountant and enjoying precision, he made sure the terraces started level and stayed level.”
In the backyard, a small outbuilding serves as both a focal point and a studio for the couple’s artistic pursuits. The outside is adorned with a birdhouse collection and a mason bee house that Gar built. Edibles growing throughout the garden include asparagus, rhubarb, cherry and peach trees, as well as Sandy’s favorite, the blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea). “They make delicious jelly and syrup and are also very healthy for you,” Sandy says. “When the elderberry is in bloom, we love watching the phainopepla birds do their acrobatic flying through the scrub oak.”
There are also many flowering plants throughout the garden, which Sandy has designed so that something is in bloom virtually year-round. As many as 15 rose bushes dot the grounds. “My favorite is the ‘Knock Out’ specimen planted under the dining room windows, which stay just the right height to see the flowers from inside—and they bloom almost from spring through fall,” she says. Sandy is hard-pressed to pick a favorite among her other plants. “If I could only choose one, it would probably be the penstemon, since it looks good year-round, attracts hummingbirds, and has no pests or problems,” she concedes. Sandy also enjoys experimenting with plants she grew back in Oregon. “Two varieties that I have not seen in Arizona that seem to do well here are rock daphne and soapwort.”
Although Sandy enjoys perusing seed catalogs and shopping at annual plant sales, her garden is now so full that she is trying to control her self-admitted flora addiction. “I am a recovering ‘plantaholic’ and have no plans to purchase anymore specimens or even seeds,” she maintains. “We are also members of the Mountain View Garden Club, which sponsors plant exchanges. I must learn to say ‘no’ even to gifts. Plants that you put in as babies very soon become mommies and daddies, and on it goes,” she jokes.
For the Lundgrens, their garden is a labor of love. They share the gardening duties, tending to the plants and landscape. “We don’t call it work,” Sandy says. “It is our passion.”