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.

In the Desert, Its Beginning to Look Like…

As most people can imagine, there isn’t too much in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona that would innately remind the casual visitor of the overall Christmas/Winter Holiday Season. It does get cool during the late fall and winter evenings. We hit temperatures in the forties many nights during the end of November and through December. We can also get more rain this time of year, but generally not as much as January.

So residents of the Phoenix area use their creativity to devise ways of decorating for the winter holidays.

Here is a photograph of a variegated agave we had in our landscape at one time. The plant has thick leaves with sharp edges and each leaf has a sharp point on the end. That is how it survives in the desert. Without all those sharp edges and points, it would be eaten to death by rabbits, javelinas and other denizens.

Agave with sharp edges and points

People have discovered that those sharp tips at the ends of the leaves have another good use!

Gold colored Christmas balls create a crown-like appearance on top of this agave in the front yard. They play well against the green of the agave and the rest of the residential desert landscape.

Gold balls on a green agave

If solid gold is too regal for you and you want more of a standard Christmas color scheme, a variety of colors would work just as well.
Colorful variety of Christmas balls on an agave

Colorful variety of Christmas balls on an agave

The increased color palette (above) plays well with other holiday ornaments such as the foreground cactus with Santa hat.

Instead of plain poinsettias, how about faux poinsettia leaves attached to the branches of the Ocotillo?

Ocotillo with Poinsettia leaves

(BTW – If you want to see what an Ocotillo looks like during the active growing season with leaves and without fake ornamentation, click HERE)

For a more subtle spot decoration, smaller colorful Christmas balls can be uniquely placed in planters.

Planter with small, colorful Christmas balls

Yes, it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the Sonoran Desert in 2016!

A Very Different Pointe of View – Septuagenarian Style

So what did you did you do this weekend? While this isn’t my actual birthday, life circumstances sometimes dictate the postponement of celebrations or, as in this case, the fast-forwarding to a special occasion.

It was with the greatest of ease that I slid from being a sexagenarian to that of a septuagenarian although the former did have a certain ring to it! It was almost painless and was less troublesome than I had thought a number years earlier.

My very best special friends of more than fifty years feted us in grand style. As a surprise, we were escorted to quite a dinner at the award winning Different Pointe of View restaurant nestled high into the hills overlooking downtown and north Phoenix.

This is the blurb from Hilton’s website:

“The award-winning Different Pointe of View offers modern American Cuisine and stunning views of the surrounding landscape.”

Sad to say I only had my iPhone, but I was able to gather a few representative pictures anyway and I hope they impart the beauty and elegance of the surroundings. The food was excellent as well and I will talk a bit about that too.

Here is the first photo I took looking north from the parking lot near the main entrance to the restaurant.


View looking North from The Different Pointe of View Restaurant, Phoenix

This is another picture in the same basic direction; perhaps a bit more westerly. It had rained the day before and the clouds still maintained some of their drama.

View looking North westerly from The Different Pointe of View Restaurant, Phoenix

Facing south, we can see the hills that surround the valley including South Mountain.

View looking South from The Different Pointe of View Restaurant, Phoenix

As a frame of reference, I placed an oval around the downtown area of Phoenix.

View looking South from The Different Pointe of View Restaurant, with the city highlighted Phoenix

From the balcony of the restaurant, looking southeasterly, there were more mountains and houses off to the side of the hill. The sky was a beautiful color blue.

View looking South easterly from The Different Pointe of View Restaurant's balcony, Phoenix, AZ

Needless to say the food was superb as well. This is the entrée that I had:

The Pork Tenderloin entrée at The Different Pointe of View Restaurant, Phoenix, AZ
Picture courtesy of Hilton’s website.

The tenderloin was “spicy,” but not overly so. Those more gringo however, might want to focus on other offerings. Several of our friends had the short ribs which were reported to be outstanding. The bread service was unique in offering several toppings for the bread varieties. Everything was as it should have been; very good!

The view was equally stunning at night with the city lights, the lights of the cars and streetlamps adding to the romantic aura.

An evening view from The Different Pointe of View Restaurant's balcony, Phoenix, AZ

The patio was superbly landscape inviting diners to walk into the various outdoor “rooms” and nooks and crannies that abound.

The Different Pointe of View's beautifully landscaped balcony area, Phoenix, AZ

This picture shows the interior of the restaurant (left) with the door to the outside open (right) which melded the indoor and outdoor experience for total enjoyment.

An indoor/outdoor split view from The Different Pointe of View Restaurant, Phoenix, AZ

The hibiscus (below) and greenery were presented with dramatic flare!

A pretty, red hibiscus on the balcony at The Different Pointe of View Restaurant, Phoenix, AZ

Naturally one would not expect the ordinary outdoor lamps at a Different Pointe of View.

Decorative outdoor lamps at The Different Pointe of View Restaurant, Phoenix, AZ


Decorative outdoor lamps (closeup) at The Different Pointe of View Restaurant, Phoenix, AZ

The base of the lamp, with the associated shadows, also served in their role as a catchy design element.

Decorative outdoor lamp base (closeup) at The Different Pointe of View Restaurant, Phoenix, AZ

While we had a lovely, well-paced birthday celebration, it was one those events that we would hope to prolong as much as possible, but alas the evening had to draw to a close. We made our way to the elevator where a spiraling staircase allowed some guests to descend at their own pace.

The spirial staircase at The Different Pointe of View Restaurant, Phoenix, AZ

As we awaited the arrival of the car, we enjoyed the serenity of the fountains and started to fashion the memories of the evening just passed.

The tranquil fountains at The Different Pointe of View Restaurant, Phoenix, AZ

Thank you to my best friend and college roommate and his lovely wife (L & M), as well as our other very good friends Terry & Lora for making this a most memorable evening. Every time I drive by, I will certainly have a different “pointe of view.” originally published this post

See previous Life in the Desert entries HERE

Pickleball Explosion at Dynamite Park, Phoenix

Dynamite Park Sign

Starts Wednesday, March 30th @ 7:30AM

Read further for more details!

As the sign says, welcome to Dynamite Park. As pickleball Ambassador in North Phoenix, I recently sent an email to the Phoenix-area pickleball players explaining that after March 25, 2016, pickleball will be allowed to be played on the two tennis courts at Dynamite Park.

For those who might want more information and location, you can read about the initial startup phase here:

Dynamite Park ( 4580 E Dynamite Blvd, Phoenix, AZ 85331 ) is a very nice suburban park in a peaceful and natural setting.

There are two water fountains nearby. This fountain is only a short distance from the parking lot.

Dynamite Park Sign

The tennis courts (and soon-to-be pickleball courts) are a short walk down the main path, directly west of the playground area. In the picture below, you can see them behind the shaded benches.

Dynamite Park Sign

Here is a close up of the two benches under the shade structure.

Dynamite Park Sign

Just outside the tennis court gate, on the north side, is a large Ocotillo with a nice display of flowers on the day the picture was taken.

Dynamite Park Sign

As you can see the park has a number of exercise areas. There is a large field to the north of the tennis courts with a walking/running path. People and people with dogs can be seen throughout the day.

Dynamite Park Sign

Dynamite Park Sign

A nice children’s play area (just northeast of the tennis courts) has appropriate shade and the second water fountain nearby.

Dynamite Park Sign

Here are the tennis courts as I found them before we began the task of placing chalk lines for pickleball. We decided to use the east tennis court to outline the two pickleball courts; one on either side of the net so the net will serve as a backstop for each court.

Dynamite Park Sign

Somewhat surprisingly, I didn’t receive too friendly a reception from the two people who were having a tennis session on the other court. I heard some rumblings and bluster, but generally speaking, tennis players have been open to expanding pickleball opportunities in the Valley.

I was glad to learn that the courts have a practice wall with a tennis net line. Pickleballers will need to aim for the bottom of the line or bring some easy-to-remove painters tape to mark a practice line. Remember to remove the tape when leaving.

Dynamite Park Sign

My colleague and Phoenix Pickleball Ambassador, Mary Travis, arrived and taught me how to mark the courts using several tape measures, blue chalk, a chalk line and a straight edge. Thank you Mary! It was very time-consuming and hopefully it won’t rain for a long time so the lines will remain. Even after some of our rains, we are hopeful that the faint lines will be visible to guide the next outlining when necessary.

Dynamite Park Sign

Can you see those skinny, faint blue lines on the tennis court? That means PICKLEBALL!

Here is a picture of me after we spent more than two hours putting lines down so we can have access to two pickleball courts once we set up the nets. (The nets were set up just for the photo opportunity.)

Dynamite Park Sign

I am hoping to see some of my fellow Phoenix pickleball players at the park during structured playing times. You can read about our initial one-month trial schedule here:

NOTE: I want to thank the USAPA for their generous grant which went a long way to help us purchase the two pickleball nets. For those who may not know, the USAPA has established the Pickleball Ambassador program and fosters outreach activities like those going on in the Phoenix-area now. Please consider joining the USAPA and supporting them so they can help us to grow the sport we enjoy so much.

I also want to extend a sincere thank you to Pickle-Ball, Inc. for their kind donation of pickleball paddles and a supply of pickleballs which will help us get the program started. I think it is important to support those companies that support us.

I hope to see you on the courts!

Jeff Ross


Phoenix, AZ Weather – It Can Be Hotter Than You Think

When I tell people I meet that I live in Phoenix, AZ, at some point in the conversation their eyes get real big and they generally ask something like: “How can you take the heat?” I then explain that during the hot weather, and when my wife and I are in “the Valley” (as it is called), we get up at 5AM to do all of the outside chores which are primarily gardening and we are back inside by 6:30 or 7AM.

After that, we focus many of our days on the 3Ms (not the manufacturing company): Museums, Malls and Movies. With that introduction, I would like to share a video of one of our area meteorologists who reported SIGNIFICANTLY higher than usual temperatures even for our very warm summer desert. Grab a cold drink before watching!

A Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk in the Desert

As followers of know, I live on the edge of the desert in North Phoenix only a few miles from Cave Creek, Arizona. As such, we have an interesting array of wildlife including many birds. One of my hobbies is trying to identify as many birds as possible when I can see them and/or capture them with a camera.

Today, a hawk landed on a telephone pole near the back corner of our yard. I have a Canon Powershot SX50 HS which has a very large zoom and allows me to get relatively close to birds even if they are far away. Since this bird was large, it made it just a bit easier.

I took these two pictures just before the hawk flew away.


juvenile Red-tailed Hawk


juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

It turned out to be a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

What birds reside in your area? originally published this post

To See More JBRish Bird Pictures Click Here

Desert T-Shirts

Living in what I call a designated tourist area such as Phoenix, Arizona has both positive and negative aspects. Of course during those months that are cold in a good part of the United States and Canada, we have an influx of tourists, part-time residents and guests.

When guests come to visit us, one of the areas we like to take them is Old Town Scottsdale. There are some historical attractions which we look at, but the gift shops of all varieties are the real draw.

As the resident Phoenician, I get a kick out of going to the tourist shops to see what new desert themed T-shirts are displayed. They generally come in two categories, 1 – The beauty or uniqueness of the desert or 2 – Poking fun at the unusual life styles and/or environment of the desert.

The t-shirt below reminds us of the beautiful wildlife we have in the area. We do have some extraordinary lizards, although nothing quite like the one pictured.


Of course Phoenix is a big draw as well as Scottsdale…


And to celebrate the heritage and uniqueness of the desert…


Then there are those that make fun of the harsh environment and cowboy atmosphere and this one tackles both…

115 degrees is hot, but c’mon it beats 30 inches of snow, doesn’t it?

One of my favorites this day was this punful one…


All of these T-shirts were found at Scottsdale Southwest Gifts and Apparel just north of the Scottsdale Historical Museum on the same side of the street.


I am not making a recommendation although I have made purchases there. Many stores offer unique apparel both authentic southwest as well as humorous or stylized southwest items.

When you visit Scottsdale’s Old Town, be sure to bring your camera and your sense of humor. I am sure you will have a good time. Don’t forget the Scottsdale Historical Museum in the center of Old Town.