The Phoenix sun blazed over Roosevelt Growhouse on Earth Day yesterday, threatening a high of 104 degrees as about a dozen volunteers steadily worked their way through vegetable garden plots and tended to rainbows of flowers on an acre of land.
Directly across the street, the two-acre Valley of the Sunflowers sat idle, awaiting its turn to be weeded, pruned and mulched. Saturday will be the next “Sunflower Saturday” volunteer day, but it will be one of the last. The Valley of the Sunflowers project is in its last season, at least at Fifth and Garfield streets.
“I thought it would be really cool if (the Valley of the Sunflowers) keeps happening because it’s such a drastic change from everything else around downtown,” said Rose Coursey, a Growhouse volunteer and women and gender studies sophomore.
Coursey, who lives downtown, recalled the project’s first season in full bloom. “It was great having life instead of a dead plot in the city,” she said.
Valley of the Sunflowers began as an idea from Kenny Barrett, project manager for Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation. It is the second garden project of the A.R.T.S. program, the Growhouse being the first. A.R.T.S. stands for Adaptive Reuse of Temporary Space.
The Sunflower’s life cycle is quick and the flowers will be ready for harvest again in June, according to Braden Kay, a sustainability doctorate student and coordinator of Sunday’s Growhouse volunteers. Planted in mid-March, season two is already sprouting, but the little green leaves remind their hard-working volunteers that the project will be done soon.
“We tried to make people aware it wouldn’t last forever,” Barrett said.
A lot on Ninth and Roosevelt streets is already being considered for the next A.R.T.S. initiative, Kay said. So when the sunflowers’ heads hang heavy with seeds, volunteers and community members won’t have to hang their heads in defeat.
The A.R.T.S. program is an example of a way Phoenix gardeners have adapted to the difficulties of urban gardening. Cooperation with landowners is key, according to Barrett, who said gardeners should look at it as a partnership.
This is not the only issue facing urban gardeners. Phoenix’s 115-degree summer heat is especially hard on plants, according to Chris Martin, senior sustainability scientist and professor at ASU.
“It has kind of shifted the focus of people gardening in the Phoenix area toward winter gardening with less emphasis placed on summer gardening,” Martin said.
On top of this, problems with water sources, skyscraper shading and theft of produce come into play in an urban garden. Yet gardening has managed to grow in popularity in Phoenix. Martin said he noticed greater attendance in his courses such as Southwest Home Gardening.
Oscar Garcia, a local artist who helped with the first season harvest, said many people came downtown to see the flowers.
“Professional photographers have come in and used that as a backdrop,” Garcia said, which included prom and wedding pictures. He also said it helped local businesses.
Billie Speece, a barista at Jobot Coffee, where the Valley of the Sunflowers is in view of the patio seating, said the lot of sunflowers brought a lot of people downtown.
“It really spiced up the neighborhood,” Speece said.
Barrett attributes the magnetism of the sunflowers to their inspiring nature.
“There’s something about a sunflower that just drives people wild,” Barrett said.
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