Pitchforks — hers and his — have been turning earth at the Bradleys’ urban home. It’s a corner backyard plot where Lucy and her 16-month-old son, Pat, will grow carrots, beans, lettuce and annuals, a small square in a larger edible patchwork.
Also on the property, in the shadow of a Valley skyscraper, are 17 trees producing almonds, peaches, apricots, passion fruit, lemon and grapefruit. Across the pool, in another swath of soil, are garlic, chives, mint, basil, sage and oregano. Three chickens have perched themselves on a nearby compost heap, scratching at the pile of yuck. This delights Bradley, urban horticulture agent for the Maricopa County Cooperative Extension.
"They’re turning it for me," she says, smiling.
While many families opt for backyard techno-patio complete with TV, music and a lighting system, the Bradleys have chosen a tranquil natural environment as a foil to their 1921 home in central Phoenix. Their edible yard supplies food 10 months of the year, a produce stand that’s seedspittin’ distance from the back door.
Which doesn’t mean the yard has no entertainment value. A pool was recently installed without cool decking, which Bradley says requires too much maintenance. To one side is a grill area that husband Bob oversees. Tucked here and there are tables and chairs to sit and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of nature.
"People come back here and love it," he says. Adults appreciate its peacefulness, and children love the butterflies, bullfrogs, migratory birds and even the June bugs that stop by.
"Pat has a chance to see the seasons and cycles," she says. That’s something many youngsters living in the asphalt desert do not get to witness. Plus, "it keeps me sane," she says, adding that time spent in the garden is not so much work as it is meditation.
"Compared to someone who has to mow their grass, this is no work at all," she says. Her garden philosophy revolves around the concept of "puttering." The produce-yielding component corresponds with the principles in Mel Bartholomew’s book "Square Foot Gardening" ($12.95, Rodale). Those principles look to optimize land use and minimize labor. The Bradleys’ cutting garden is further testament to that principle. Growing semiwild in the alley behind the backyard fence is a plethora of color.
"Most people don’t do anything with that land," she says. But it’s been a perfect place for flowers, brightening a normally dreary pathway before being reassigned to the Bradleys’ indoor vases.
"When we moved into the house in 1989, the property was surrounded by oleander hedge," she says. The only remnant of the previous landscape is a single orange tree. The rest has been their doing, a rural lifestyle in an urban setting.