Nancy Mumpton's garden in suburban Phoenix, Arizona

Nancy Mumpton has been a Facebook friend for years, and on my recent trip to Arizona, I finally had the opportunity to visit her at her home in suburban Phoenix. From photos on Facebook and previous exchanges I knew that she and I like many of the same plants, but I didn’t really know what her overall garden looked like.

As you’ll see below, it’s actually a tale of two gardens. Her front yard is what you’d expect to find in the desert: cacti, agaves, and drought-adapted shrubs. Her backyard is completely different: far more lush and floriferous while still water-conscious.

Another surprise was where Nancy lives. The Phoenix metropolitan area has almost 5 million people according to the 2020 census and takes up a huge chunk of real estate in central Arizona. If you live in one of the cities in the middle of the metro area, you spend a lot of time driving to get away from it all. Nancy, on the other hand, lives close to the Gila River Indian Community, a 580 square mile reservation south of Phoenix with no major housing developments, and the open desert is just a few minutes from her home.

Nancy in front of her house

Collection of potted plants near the front door

This wide window ledge is perfect for potted plants

Prostrate rosemary does very well in the low desert

Agave asperrima and Ferocactus cylindraceus, one of most common barrel cacti in Arizona

Agave asperrima is a generous offsetter

Nancy with Agave asperrima and Ferocactus cylindraceus

Nancy next to their Ferocactus cylindraceus. A few more years, and the barrel cactus will be as tall as she is.

This barrel cactus does invite portraits, doesn’t it?

Ferocactus wislizeni with a face!

Different angle

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), not leafed out yet

Santa hats on totem pole cactus (monstrose form of Lophocereus schottii)

Heart-shaped pad on Opuntia sp.

Sprawling/crawling/creeping Opuntia aurea

Opuntias and pine cone cactus (Tephrocactus articulatus f. inermis)

Opuntia ‘Baby Rita’

Caged Echinopsis huascha clump. Apparently rabbits love to nibble on it.

Yucca rupicola, a yucca rarely seen this side of Texas

As we walked through Nancy’s living room to get to the backyard, Nancy pointed out several pieces by Arizona botanical artist Dyana Hesson on the wall. Dyana’s luminous paintings of aloe and cactus flowers are showstoppers:

Paintings by Dyana Hesson in Nancy’s living room

In her laundry room, Nancy has several grow lights for seedlings and plants recuperating from damage or ailments:

When we walked out into the backyard, I did a double take. I expected similar plants as in the front, but the plant palette is very different. Flowering shrubs and perennials provide a sense of lushness that totally surprised me. They’re combined with agaves, aloes and cacti, much like what you’d see in Southern California—except Phoenix gets far hotter. I think Nancy has done a great job creating a tropical-looking sanctuary in a compact space.

Agave vilmoriniana

Very blue Myrtillocactus geometrizans against the wall, framed by Bougainvillea

Wider view of the central section of Nancy’s backyard

Aloidendron ‘Hercules’ peeking over the wall into the neighbors’ yard

The sprawling tree in the corner is an orange. The neighbors have even more citrus trees...

...including a Kaffir lime tree laden with fruit. Check out the size of these Kaffir limes! I got to take them home with me.

Echinopsis in an urn, desert mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), sprawling on the ground

This side yard is dominated by a popcorn cassia (Senna didymobotrya). Its common name was inspired by the scent released when crushing the leaves.

Popcorn cassia (Senna didymobotrya)

Sprawling lantanas, dogweed (Thymophylla pentachaeta), and Aloe ‘Rooikappie’

Sphaeralcea ambigua ‘Louis Hamilton’

Cacti and Callistemon

Stenocereus beneckei

Impressively variegated form of Echinopsis ‘Yes’, a hybrid created by Mark Dimmitt

Potted succulents on patio table

My eyes immediately went to this bowl of yellow goodness. Turns out these are REAL key limes, right off a tree to the left of the patio. I got to take these home—major score!

Key limes (top) and Kaffir limes (bottom), all mine to take!

Plants under the Key lime tree

Potted succulents against the northeast side of the house

Nancy has a huge collection of potted succulents

Haworthias and gasterias, succulents I certainly do not associate with Phoenix, but apparently they do well in the shade

Rainbow cactus (Echinocereus rigidissimus var. rubispinus)

Astrophytum capricorne (top), Astrophytum myriostigma (bottom)

I couldn’t believe the number of babies on this Echinopsis hybrid. It’s in a 4" pot!

Peniocereus viperinus, a stick cactus from Mexico with beautiful pink flowers

Shady side yard

Nancy is the nicest person you could ever hope to meet, and the two hours I spent in her garden flew by in an instant. What a great way to kick off my Arizona trip!

December 18 update:

I made Key lime pie from Nancy's Key limes, and it was awesome. Recipe here.


© Gerhard Bock, 2022. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. What a treat to be able to finally hook up with Nancy. Her back garden is definitely a colourful sanctuary from the Arizona heat. The citrus are fantastic as is the huge Ferocactus in the front. She has such a huge selection of plants you could browse for hours.

  2. Years ago, I spent 6 months commuting between LA and Phoenix on a weekly basis for a work assignment and I'm amazed to see a back garden that green with so many colorful flowers in that climate. There are probably lessons for me there. Her succulent collection is incredible. I loved that Astrophytum capricorne.

  3. Nancy has the most magnificent garden. Every bit of her gardens is so fantastically organized and well taken care off. Her front garden is indeed a surprise as well as her back and side gardens. I am so impressed.
    Thank you for posting these wonderful photos.

  4. Did not mean to post it as Anonymous, so had to re-do it.

  5. Wow! What a treat to see Nancy's garden. That Tephrocactus articulatus/pine cone cactus is amazing, I've never seen one even approaching that large. So many cool plants, well done Nancy!

  6. What a pleasure to have such a lovely tour of Nancy ‘s beautiful home. What an extensive collection and so well-maintained and cared for. Bravo, Nancy, keep the inspiration coming!

  7. What an awesome garden oasis Nancy has created in such a harsh climate. I’m impressed by her very clever plant selection - her garden looks lush and cool and yet is tough and waterwise. I’d like to sit out on her back table with a G&T on a hot day (with lots of lime of course).
    - Horticat

  8. Thank you all for the kind comments. My goal has been to try to grow low water plants that survive the desert heat and grow them naturally (not cut into round balls or cupcakes as many here are). I also like to intersperse cactus in the area because I love their flowers and the contrast of texture.

    1. Very nice Nancy. I loved the visit! Thank you for sharing.


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