Anyone who has tried to grow non-native plants in Rim Country has struggled to cope with the unforgiving the alkaline soil.
Perennials wilt and wither and trees may just refuse to grow under the harsh Arizona sun.
So it’s hard to imagine tropical hibiscus flourishing.
But you can experience an array of colorful, exotic blooms, trees and even a lily pond in one couple’s yard at the Da Love Ananda Botanical Gardens, the only such botanical garden in Gila County.
Garden curator and creator Mike Voden knows all too well the challenges of taming the land.
When he lived in Michigan years ago, gardening came easy; things just grew and grew.
“The trees were monstrous,” he said, outstretching his hands as he describes Chinese elms and maples.
When he relocated to Arizona, he figured he could replicate the results. He was wrong: It wouldn’t be that easy.
“The soil, sun — everything was different, I had to relearn everything,” he said.
He trucked in (and is still bringing in) tons of organic material. Bags of dead leaves. Tree stumps from firewise yard clearings. Clippings. He ground it all up and spread it throughout the yard then let the worms and grubs go to work.
He holds up a handful of soil from a flower bed, rolling it through his fingers. “There,” he says, “do you see that? That is worm crap, some people call it worm casings, but I call it what it is.”
The worms’ work increases the amount of water and air that gets into the soil and breaks down the organic matter into fertilizer.
After several years of tilling the land and building up the soil, things are starting to pop in the garden. Voden estimates he has between 8,000 and 10,000 plants on the property.
“We try to make this place calm and peaceful,” he said. “And share information with people how everything is connected to everything else.”
Some of his favorite plants include pampas grass, the catalpa tree with its large, heart-shaped leaves, the locust tree, sedum succulents, yuccas, alpine daisies, irises and lilacs.
A pond in front of his home is even filled with a colorful mix of water lilies.
With things finally taking root, Voden just wishes more people visited the garden off East Rancho Road. He charges no entry fee and encourages people to wander through the garden at any time.
He also offers tours of the property during which he explains rainwater harvesting, gray water use, mulching, composting and organic gardening.
“But I guess everything is done in divine order,” he said of attendance.
It takes a near obsession to build up a botanical garden and Voden certainly has that passion, toiling for hours.
His passion stretches beyond the garden though, to embrace politics, spirituality, organic cooking, construction or the general state of the world.
He says his ideas aren’t always widely accepted, but just like his garden, he continues to sow, turning things over until the alkaline dissipates.
To arrange a tour, call Voden at (928) 474-1605. When you call, you might get Voden’s wife, Pat Rollins.
The garden is named after Rollins’ spiritual leader, Master Adi Da Samraj.