Sunflowers in the Valley of the Sun – Part 1

There is no doubt about it, gardening in the Sonoran Desert during the summer is a challenge. It is similar to other areas of the country which have on season, mainly winter, that is not too hospitable to a wide assortment of plants that would be otherwise easy to grow in spring, summer and into the fall.

Unlike those areas where winter prevents almost all outside gardening, there are some plants and varieties that can tolerate our summers given the appropriate environment; and therein lies the rub!

As I travel the highways and byways of the desert regions of the southwest, I notice that there is one variety of wild sunflower that seems to survive the summer most years and even thrive when there are ample showers. Keeping that in mind, and not being able to nail down the exact variety (my bad), I decided to try a package of mixed sunflower seeds to see what it would yield in my desert garden. This was to be my gardening experiment for the summer of 2018.

Package of Sunflower Seeds

I always check the back of the package to see the “Packed for” date. Obviously the fresher the seeds, the better so I always make sure they are the current year’s seeds. I also like the fact that these seeds are organic and are not treated with chemicals. Our bees are struggling enough as it is.

Notice organic and sell-by date

An inexpensive turkey baster is used in this process to control the flow of water. It is good for delicate seedlings and at times when I need to wet a plant with a controlled, low flow of water.

Turkey baster for gentle watering

To keep everything corraled on the counter, I work inside a container lid. The lip of the lid keeps the water and other debris under control.

Coffee lid container for working

Of course we could plant the seeds directly in the ground, but I considered several factors:

  • We have numerous desert critters that would love to take a bite out of a luscious sprout.
  • There is no guarantee that every seed in a package will be viable.
  • I have limited time and space so I want to make sure any seed has the best start possible.

Considering the above, I decided to pre-sprout the seeds. Here are the three seeds I selected. [NOTE: One cannot tell from the seeds which sunflower will be “born” from any specific seed. This is a mix so it is a random choice.]

Three sunflower seeds-mixed varieties

My process for pre-sprouting the seeds is to wet a piece of paper towel to the point where it is uniformally wet, but not soaked.

Wet paper towel

Once the towel has been wet, the seeds are then placed at intervals on the sheet leaving ample space between, but not too much. I like to make a compact packet.

Seeds on wet towel

After the seeds have been carefully placed, the towel is folded over them so they are enveloped in the moist towel. This will be a good environment for sprouting.

Towel folded over seeds

The towel is folded into an envelope-type form to provide the best chance of staying moist.

Towel folded into envelope/packet

I always make a label just in case I want to keep track of sprouting times, time from sprout to flower, etc., but I didn’t use that information for tracking in this instance.

Sunflower seed label

Once this process is complete, probably less than thirty minutes, the seeds are placed inside a plastic bag, label and all and set aside. I check them every day to …

    – make sure the seeds remain uniformally damp, but not soaking

    – see if they have sprouted (because at that point further action is needed)

Packet in baggie with label

To be continued…


Read more gardening posts HERE


All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 –

Spring 2018 – What’s Growing in the Arizona Desert?

We have arrived at our spring planting season in the Phoenix, Arizona area even when other areas of the nation continue to be cold and perhaps stormy. I had an opportunity to visit the demonstration garden at the Maricopa County Extension Center which is maintained primarily by the Master Gardeners.

There were some interesting plants in full bloom and I wanted to share two of them with you. When I select a plant to grow, it is generally one that has impressive flowers. This can be small, numerous flowers or large, showy flower that are less in number.

I also like to have the flower-to-leaf ratio to be appropriate. I don’t want the leaves to overpower the flowers. The one exception to this would be a plant that has pretty or show leaves. One plant that comes to mind in this category is Milk Thistle. We have lots of critters in our neighborhood and they like many of the plants we enjoy so I need to be very selective.

Then there are some plants that people in our region select because they are unique.

One quite “different” plant at the demonstration garden is Lion’s Tail or Wild Dagga (Leonotis leonurus) – One look and it will be obvious how this flower received its name.

Lion's Tail or Wild Dagga

Here is a close up of the flower…

Lion's Tail or Wild Dagga - closeup

Lion’s Tail is reportedly a fast growing, drought tolerant plant!

You can read more about this unique plant in The San Francisco Gate article HERE. — scroll down.

Another unique and interesting plant is the Hyacinth Bean (Dolichos lablab or Lablab purpurea). This plant is grown as much for its purple seed pod as the plentiful light and dark pink flowers. If you have a place in your garden for a vine, this might be a very good choice.

Hyacinth Bean

Naturally if this is grown in our area, it must be heat tolerant, but the amazing thing is how well the vine tends to do even with the hight temperatures as long as it is given ample water.

Hyacinth Bean closeup

You can find more information about Hyacinth Bean HERE and HERE.


Read more gardening posts HERE


All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 –

Pickleball: N. Phoenix, Paseo Highlands Revisited

You may recall that on July 11, 2017, I posted a story about new courts being constructed at the Paseo Highlands Park in North Phoenix. I am happy to report that they started construction and because of the relatively mild winter, it seems to me that they are making excellent progress.

I am not an engineer and I know very little about construction so any comments made here are from my unitiated point of view.

As you will note, there is a lot of heavy construction equipment at the construction site.

Heavy equipment at the construction site

There was an opening in the fence so I could get a clear shot of the land that has been cleared and is awaiting some material for underlayment/grading.

Land clearing and leveling

This is taken from the same general area looking toward the north.

Looking north toward the community center

(Below) On two of the courts substrata of crushed stone was placed on top of the dirt and it was being leveled. Rebar and levels were being carefully employed.

substrata was being leveled

This is another shot of the preparation on that same set of courts.

Another photo of the preparation of the substrata

I was at the site about 8:20 AM so there were trucks and workers coming and going as the work day was getting into full swing. Half the parking lot was roped off for use by the construction crew.

Trucks and workers were very busy

The following two photos were taken from the rear door of Beuf Community Center. The red arrow marks the area where the new pickleball courts are located so readers can gain a perspective. Upon careful inspection, you can see some of the workers.

Looking from Beuf Community Center south toward the courts

Looking from Beuf Community Center south toward the courts

I still think there is a good chance these courts will be ready for play sooner than expected!


Watch Pickleball Videos

To See Pickleball Videos Covering Many Aspects of the Game Click Here (primarily for beginners and less experienced players)

Check out Additional Pickleball Info and Videos! (for all players including average to more experienced players)



All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 –

Phoenix Art Museum – Tire Totem

We are in the weather sweet spot in the North Phoenix area and multitudes of people flock to the desert to find relief from the cooler, colder and drearier environs of the northlands. With this influx of “snowbirds,” a number of our friends and relatives arrive on an annual basis and many of them are repeat visitors.

We often face the challenge of providing interesting adventures for them. One of the places we look to is the Phoenix Art Museum. Compared to other major metropolitan areas, I think Phoenix is somewhat small, but the culture offerings are significant.

Our most recent guest is an artist and art student so naturally we gravitated toward the museum. During this visit, we focused on contemporary artists.

One installation I found particularly interesting was created by Mexican artist, Bestsabé Romero and was titled Columna interminable (Endless Column), 2015. The piece was constructed from rubber tires and gold leaf.

Tire column representing migration of ancient civilizations

The work focuses on the theme of migration which connects well with the idea of tires. There are a total of seventeen tires with various designs representing cultures from “pre-conquest North, Central, and South America…”

A section of the tire column representing the Aztec and Hohokam cultures

The snake in the topmost tire in the photo above is from the Aztec/Mixtec societies of Mexico while the oval shaped symbols just below are from the Hohokam of Arizona.

In the picture below, the dancing figures with headdress were drawn from the Wari or Moche of Peru with the abstract design below representing the Mimbres from New Mexico.

A section of the tire column representing the Wari, Moche and Mimbres cultures

I was intrigued by the use of materials and the beauty they created using an item that has historically populated landfills worldwide. The ingenuity and creativity of Bestsabé Romero is to be admired.

I recommend a trip to the Phoenix Art Museum if you are visting the Valley of the Sun. They have paintings from nearly every genre of art including the masters. There are numerous galleries that are sure to satisfy almost all guests.

Read more about the Phoenix Art Museum HERE

PSThey have one of the best art museum gift shops I have seen and I have seen quite a few!


NOTE – All photographs were taken with an iPhone 5 and represent works by the artists named in the stories. All work is copyrighted by their creator and is presented here strictly for educational and illustrative purposes.

Read more miscellaneous stories HERE


All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2017 –

Pickleball – Coming to Rose Mofford Sports Compled, Phoenix

On the heels of good news that new pickleball courts are being planned for the Paseo Highlands Park, (see Pickleball Expanding in Phoenix we have been made aware that the Rose Mofford Sports Complex will have three pickleball courts available once the the park renovation is completed

Here are some pictures of the signs provided by a member of our pickleball community:

Pickleball Sign at Rose Mofford Sports Complex

Pickleball Sign at Rose Mofford Sports Complex

Pickleball Sign at Rose Mofford Sports Complex

For a larger picture, Click HERE

For those who may not know where the Rose Mofford Sports Complex is, here is a screen shot taken from Google Maps.

Pickleball Sign at Rose Mofford Sports Complex

Rose Mofford Sports Complex
9833 N 25th Ave
Phoenix, AZ 85021

The grapevine has it that construction was planned to start after July 5, 2017 although the sign indicates late spring.

As always, we would like to thank and acknowledge the City of Phoenix and the Parks and Recreation Department for their efforts on behalf of the Phoenix Area pickleball players.

Pickleball Videos

To See additional Pickleball Videos Covering Many Aspects of the Game Click Here (primarily for beginners and less experienced players)

Check out Additional Pickleball Info and Videos! (for all players including average to more experienced players)



All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2017

Pickleball Expanding in Phoenix

Paseo Highlands

There is a follow up to this story. Click HERE to see it.

It is always exciting to anticipate new opportunities related to areas in which we have a vested interest. I would like to report about one such happening in the N. Phoenix area pickleball community.

PLEASE NOTE – This is a preliminary report and items presented here are in the planning stages. Given the uncertainties with municipal budgets, priorities, emergencies, etc. any of the following my be revised, changed, etc. Kindly keep this in mind as you read further.

Last week, I met with Jan Sherwood, Recreation Supervisor, Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, City of Phoenix Landscape Architect, Tom Byrne and several other area Pickleball Ambassadors to preview preliminary plans for new pickleball courts at Paseo Highlands Park.

** About the Park – Paseo Highlands Park (Geolet A.C. Beuf Community Center), 3435 W. Pinnacle Peak Rd., 35th Ave. and Pinnacle Peak Rd. (Located adjacent to Geolet A.C. Beuf Community Center)

Amenities: A 40-acre regional Park with two lighted softball fields, lighted soccer field, lighted basketball court, lighted volleyball court, playgrounds, restrooms and picnic areas, grills, ramadas, and the Geolet A.C. Beuf Community Center.

**Excerpted from the City of Phoenix website.

Some of our pickleball friends have noticed signs in the area which outlined the project.

The plan is to build six outdoor pickleball courts.

The photo below is NOT of any identified pickleball court, but is to show the colors of the courts as the preliminary design and plan currently details.

Here are some of the specifics as I understood them. Please remember, that these plans are still fluid and preliminary.

  • There will be fences/barriers separating all of the courts. This should cut down on ball chasing.
  • The circles represent trees to be planted as part of the development process.
  • There is an existing ramada that will remain; located north of the westmost court (rectangular structure).
  • The courts will be lit with timed fixtures that will go on automatically.
  • For the four courts to the east, entry gates are located in the middle of the quad.
  • The two westerly courts have gates at the northern corners.

Pictured below is the general location for the development.

Bathrooms are located relatively near the courts.

There is a parking lot located a bit east of the courts. It has eleven spaces plus one space for handicapped parking.

It was 100 degrees plus the day we met and I walked from the community center to the area shown on the plans and it was not a far walk.

This is a picture I took while standing near the parking lot looking back at the community center

and here is a photo taken standing on the steps of the community center looking back at the area (with gravel/granite) where the new courts will be placed.

For those who want to see a wide view of the general area, this is the link to the larger image (panorama)

Click HERE

The question that might be on the minds of most readers is WHEN will these courts be finished or when can we begin playing on them? A “guesstimate”, keeping in mind that there are some “ifs” involved, is that we are looking at some time after the new year, 2018!

Until then, it is something nice to think about!

I would like to thank Jan Sherwood and the City of Phoenix for keeping our pickleball community in mind and for allowing us to learn of the projects as they begin unfold.

I hope to see you on the courts!

Agave Farms (AF) – An Urban Desert Experience – Part 2

In Part 1 of my story about the Master Gardener’s visit to Agave Farms, I mentioned the large size of the facility. Many of the sections have stone walls creating raised beds that are also very large.

Agave Farm picture

If you visit the area near the informal entrance you may be able to find a variety of plantings, pots, etc. to provide ideas and inspiration such as this large planting of Euphorbia tirucalli is commonly referred to as a ‘Sticks on Fire’ or another similar name.

Agave Farm picture

As previously noted, AF grows vegetables, cacti, succulents and a host of other plants. Another of their specialties is roses. Whenever I mention rose growing in the desert to my friends from other areas, they are surprised, but Arizona is one of the largest exporters of roses in the US.

Agave Farm picture

AF carries a large variety of roses. They have a three-fold brochure listing the names of their roses so gardeners can more easily find a particular variety.

Agave Farm picture

If there is a color you are seeking, you will most likely find it at AF. Interestingly enough, they grow many of their roses in mesh-like bags which are environmentally friendly. I had never seen these before, but they seemed to work well.

Agave Farm picture

I was seeking a very particular climbing rose that does well in our zone, Golden Showers, and sure enough, I was able to find the plant at AF and it is now doing well in our courtyard landscape.

I did not get the specific name of the plant pictured below, but it was somewhat unique for our area. I particularly liked the leaf form and the white-ish tips at the end of the flowers.

Agave Farm picture

Flowers and vegetables are planted in groupings and interspersed. This may be to deter certain pests or perhaps just to develop a more colorful display.

Agave Farm picture

In one section of the farm, they were demonstrating hay bale gardening for those who don’t have a fertile plot or otherwise find this an acceptable alternative.

Agave Farm picture

More cool weather veggies and flowers.

Agave Farm picture

Agave Farm picture

It was fun just to walk around. Up against a fence, I saw this half-column ornament which was different!

Agave Farm picture

There are constant reminders that AF is in the middle of the city as apartments surround it and can be seen across from this water retention pond.

Agave Farm picture

A chicken coop constructed from an old truck cargo area was another interesting stop.

Agave Farm picture

Agave Farm picture

Just before I left the farm to head home, I saw this unique bicycle cart. Isn’t the color wonderful?!

Agave Farm picture originally published this post
*All photographs Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with all rights reserved.

See previous posts about life in the desert HERE or gardening HERE.

Agave Farms – An Urban Desert Experience – Part 1

In Phoenix, AZ (the Sonoran Desert) gardening is unlike most other places. One thing more difficult than gardening in the desert is creating a successful garden retail business and that is why it is always exciting when a new option appears.

As part of the Maricopa County Master Gardener program, we took a field trip to visit Agave Farms in central Phoenix.

    4300 N Central Ave,
    Phoenix, AZ 85012
    (602) 374-6553

Agave Farm picture

What renders Agave Farms somewhat different is that it is a cross between a community farm and garden center. It is landlocked by urban landscape and serves as a welcome oasis for those in the immediate area.

Agave Farm picture

When visitors enter the center, they are first struck by the vastness of the farm. Although it appears as one city block, it is a big one.

Agave Farm picture

At times there can be a flurry of activity taking place so naturally, there needs to be some guidelines for the safety of the visitors and the care of the plants and other items for sale..

Agave Farm picture

Here is an artistic signpost explaining where most areas of interest are located.

Agave Farm picture

Gardeners should take their time to look around and study the displays and floral groupings. These can spur creative gardening thoughts for home use.

Agave Farm picture

Agave Farms (AF) appears to invite group visits such as ours. They have a small picnic table and barbecue area just behind the office building near the parking lot.

Agave Farm picture

For inspiration, there are small and large displays to get guests into that gardening mood.

Agave Farm picture

AF even offers plants that are impossible to kill, i.e. metal sculptures. (Note – I am not sure these particular specimens are for sale, but if interested, I think AF can provide the contact information of a supplier).

Agave Farm picture

Many people who have desert gardens like to use rebar, metal objects, etc. in their garden design. I have learned to appreciate rebar and rust as a featured element of a Sonoran Desert garden design. This portion of a rebar gate focuses attention on flowers on the picnic area’s patio.

Agave Farm picture

Below is a picture of a nice, artsy petunia display. Keep in mind that these photographs were taken the second week in January at a time when there are still cool-to-cold temperatures and danger of frost. This is our early spring in the Valley of the Sun. This season is not a time to find, full lush gardens in the desert. It is however, a good time to begin thinking about plans and planting for the upcoming season.

Agave Farm picture

There are some interesting, some may say humorous, touches at AF such as this doctor statue standing in the middle of a future planting area.

Agave Farm picture

We cannot forget that this is a desert-based farm and landscape center and as such there are desert plants for sale. These cactus plants have cups covering their sensitive growing tips should a frost occur. It does look a bit unusual to those from other areas, but quite common in the desert.

Agave Farm picture

In a previous JBRish post, I depicted another unusual aspect to winter protection of sensitive desert plants. You can check out the post, Cactus Ghosts in the Desert.

Large specimens are often sold in planting boxes. These are a bit tricky to use for those who are uninitiated and usually require a specialist or someone who has developed the appropriate skills. There is a definite technique to releasing a plant from one of these wooden planting boxes and keeping the root ball intact.

Agave Farm picture

There are live agaves to be seen at AF, but this particular fountain sculpture can serve as a signature for this post and a fine end to Part 1 of our visit to Agave Farms.

Agave Farm picture originally published this post
*All photographs Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with all rights reserved.

See previous posts about life in the desert HERE or gardening HERE.

Hiking Sticks at the Apache Wash Trail – Phoenix

In January, 2015 my brother-in-law was with us and we decided to go for a short hike. The recently opened Sonoran Desert Drive seemed a likely place to visit as we had passed the Apache Wash trailhead that looked inviting.

We enjoyed a short hike up part of the mountain trail and I was able to capture a couple of pictures of a Red-tailed Hawk, nothing great, but enough for an ID.

After we had finished our short hike (we did not do the entire trail), we headed back to the trailhead where I snapped the picture below of two hiking sticks. They must be hiking sticks if they are wearing hiking shoes; right?

Hiking Sticks - Humor

Anyway, I thought this was a funny picture and I wonder whether the footwear was ever reclaimed by its rightful owner.

Read more about the Apache Wash Trail originally published this post
*All photographs Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with all rights reserved.

Pickleball at Thompson Peak Park, Scottsdale

I finally made it to Thompson Peak Park in Scottsdale to look at the new pickleball courts and I am posting an introduction of sorts for those who want to know more about the facility.

Thompson Peak Park
20199 N. 78th Pl.
Scottsdale, AZ 85255

Here is a link to a Map showing the park location.

This is the link for the Thompson Peak Park Meetup group which enables players to see who intends to be at the park at certain dates, times, etc. and which also provides news and updates about the park.

This is the link for the Calendar explaining which groups (beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc.) meet on which days and at what times.

There are two gates available when walking from the parking area to the basketball court and pickleball court areas. When I arrived, the gate leading directly to the pickleball courts was locked, but the basketball court gate was open and a secondary internal gate then allowed entrance to the pickleball playing area.

As you can see below, the courts are two-toned which I think makes it a bit easier to define the kitchen area during certain aspects of play. The paint patterns seem a bit more exaggerated in the photos than I remember, but I thought the courts were quite playable and the paint should not be a distraction.

Here is another view.

Note that the perimeter fence is not as high as most other venues and there may be some ball chasing necessary for players like me who, once in a while, tend to miss their overhead smash! I can sometimes get them over the highest fences anyway!!

A shorter fence separated the pickleball courts from the basketball area which has lines for three additional pickleball courts for those who have their own nets.

The black lines are for the pickleball court. I have drawn a red line on the picture to indicate approximately where the net would be.

Below is a picture of the middle pickleball court marked on the basketball area.

I returned to the park one evening to assess the lighting. The courts were well lit except the northernmost dedicated pickleball court which had a light out and was dark. The other two courts were fine. The basketball area, lined for three courts, was very well lit (see picture below).

I also wanted to check out the bathroom situation. There are bathrooms and they were open at 6:45PM so my assumption is they are open all day. It is a bit of a walk as they are located between the baseball fields to the south.

There are water fountains nearby…

and benches inside the pickleball court fence.

The courts are oriented east-to-west which may prove problematic when the sun is at certain angles. All-in-all though, I think Thompson Peak Park would be a very good place to play.