Vibrant geraniums and petunias, red castor bean in full bloom, a handful of pineapple and spider plants, asparagus ferns, succulents, red and green sweet potato vines, yellow iris, Mother of Thousands, mimosas, popcorn cassias and cardoon, as well as dozens of paperwhites, canna lilies and ruella, all ready to explode in spring blossoms — these are just a few of the plants that Dan Jenks and Michael Krause are growing in their magical space at Desertscape, a 55+ manufactured home community.
Both Jenks and Krause share a lifelong love of gardening. Jenks earned a degree in horticulture, ran a flower shop, and decorated Rose Bowl floats for 18 years. Krause started a neighborhood landscaping business at the age of 12 and has been gardening in the Valley for over 60 years.
When they moved into the home four years ago, the space was barren, Jenks said, “It was nothing. Just nothing but gravel.”
So, they set about beautifying their space in earnest in March 2020.
“We’ve put in the beds and trimmed them out, and we just kept planting and planting,” Krause said.
Much of what they grow, they propagate themselves in the overflowing nursery area. With the soothing sound water falling and soft music floating in the air, the tranquil green space feels far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city that is just a few hundred feet away. The oasis continues in the back and side yard, where a wishing well overflows with greenery, small trees provide dappled shade, fence posts and pergolas provide support for sweet potato and other vines, cassias adorn the space with pops of bright yellow and pathways are lined with pot after pot of plant specimens — flowers, herbs, ferns — nearly every available space is filled.
Walking through the space with them in March, Jenks pointed out some of the structural improvements they’ve made to the property and notices some volunteer sunflowers and petunias. The spot seems to attract life. Hummingbirds darted through the trees, bees buzzed through looking for the perfect flower — they have even had visits from a troublemaking bunny, none of which could happen without the careful tending of the plot’s owners.
“It is a labor of love,” Jenks said.
And the neighbors have taken notice, including Allison Hawley. She appreciated the beauty that her neighbors were creating, and as editor of the monthly community newsletter, she convinced them 18 months ago to begin writing a column sharing their gardening tips.
“Not only have Dan and Michael improved the look of our little village with the beautiful gardens surrounding their home, they have nudged along the gardening skills of many other residents, teaching them what will thrive in any given season, how often to water, where to place the plants,” Hawley said. “We have learned about herbs and pineapples and loofas from our talented experts, now lovingly known as The Garden Guys.”
Hawley added, “These days, it’s not uncommon to walk down any of our streets and see lots that are in the midst of their own transformation. Shovels in hand, residents are eager to learn and happy to be part of the shift as their neighborhood changes from boring to beautiful thanks to The Garden Guys.”
To anyone who is wanting to green up their own space but aren’t sure where to start, Krause says, “Just go for it!”
“I would spend more time talking to people that are gardening here in Phoenix,” he said. “The Valley itself is a difficult area for a lot of people to grow in. If you came from back East, throw out everything you knew and start over. And just keep going. Those things that you succeed at, try for more like that, so you have more growth and more fun gardening,”
Both Jenks and Krause spend hours in the garden every day. Beyond that beauty that they create, they find it relaxing, therapeutic even, and the sense of achievement when you see the plants flourish cannot be understated.
“We said it once in the column: One has to garden. One must.”