Virtual Garden Tours

The Backyard Garden Farm Tour

Written by Cricket

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Welcome to another amazing Virtual Garden Tour, showing you that creating your own edible oasis in the desert is truly possible. This week’s garden, Chris and Fran’s —The Backyard Garden Farm, takes you on one gardener’s journey from burgeoning gardener to Permaculture expert. Frances Keltner-Saar brings you into her garden to share its evolution in hopes of inspiring you to begin your own. Fran and Chris have transformed their typical Phoenix property into a permaculture paradise. I’ll let France’s take it from here…



imageI’m an Arizona native by several generations, so the climate holds no surprises for me. I’ve been gardening here for most of my life, begining as a teen growing flowers and other plants for my mother. In college I assisted my boyfriend’s family with their veggie garden and truly discovered the joy of gardening. With my first home I had quite an extensive garden, but unfortunately had to leave it. Over the next few years my then-husband’s career required that we move several times. After I came back to Phoenix in 92, I started gardening again — I feel certain this is why my two daughters have such an extensive food palate.

After my divorce in 1999, I bought a small home with a small yard and a very large pool (which I did not want), but it was a good deal and expenses were tight.


Over the succeeding years I gardened wherever I could with roses, flowers, and the occasional edible.


I then met my future husband, Chris. He built me two raised beds by the pool, which I gardened extensively and became very conscious about organic gardening due to my many trials and failures.


In 2011 the decision to refurbish the pool or fill it in reared its head. Filling it in made all the sense I the world. It was 1/4 the price of renovation, and frankly I wanted gardening space and a Jacuzzi!
I had read about people in the Phoenix area, like Greg Peterson, who grew edible landscaping. Needless to say, the pool was filled in. Beds were built, gardening started, and an interest in healthier eating became our focus — no Jacuzzi though.


In 2012 we decided to get chickens for healthy eggs and to eat the garden pests.


My gardens grew and so did the chickens.


I quickly found out that unmanaged chickens in a small backyard was not gardening nirvana!!

We built a fence around their coop and soon expanded out and made a chicken pasture so they could graze from the Bermuda grass. Very quickly there was no more Bermuda grass!

In 2013 I discovered two things.

#1) Permaculture and #2) chickens can get out of control.

I took a hands-on Permaculture Design Course and became certified. It forever changed my and my husband’s views of gardening and sustainable living.

We put in a double-dug bed with a French drain.

That drain would be connected to the overflow of the large water-harvesting tank.

We added two tanks ( approx 1400 gal capacity, thereby losing my jacuzzi area )


and connected them to a gutter system on our roof.


We added berms and Swales in the front to capture rain water over-flow from our roof and tanks. And transformed our clothes washer for grey water harvesting.

We built a compost bin within the chicken coop run. The chickens have access to all our kitchen and garden waste and do the job of composting for us. That has been a huge success.

The chicken pasture has become the Chicken Food Forest where fruit trees and veggies are grown for both us and the chickens, utilizing alternating grazing cycles.

We have also made chicken tractors for our raised beds. This is the best pest control-weed control-fertilizer you can get.

I use all of my horizontal and vertical space for growing.

Cattle panels and fencing make great archways for growing vines.


Tepees and other vertical structures allow me to grow more in a smaller amount of space. I also grow food as an understory in all of the 20-25 fruit trees in my yard.

My front yard has also transitioned with our evolution.


Becoming more of a food forest in an Edible Landscaping model. I wanted to demonstrate that you can have a presentable front yard yet feed yourself from it too.


My front has fruit trees mesquites, chiltepins, peppers, i’itoi, aloe, artichoke, lavender, apples, peaches, apricots, citrus, Rosemary, sweet potatoes and Lantana all planted in a food forest fashion that appears as natural landscaping.


Over the past 10 yrs in this house, our lifestyle has evolved which has been greatly reflected in our gardens.


Resources I’d like to share

My learning resources have been my PDC and all the great people who are active in the Phoenix gardening community.

Books: Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemmenway, Brad Lancasters books and website for water harvesting.

Podcasts: Sustainable World, Permaculture Voices, Permaculture Tonight and last but not least The Urban Farm Podcast.


I was a co-creator of the Organic Desert Gardeners of Maricopa County Facebook group in which Nancy Schmehl does the majority of the admin tasks (great thanks to her). From that group the first Veggie Exchange and Seed Swap started from my garage. A sister Facebook group, Veggie and Other Stuff Exchange, was then created by Eliza Dutra to where all the exchanges transitioned. Both these groups and all the people involved have taught me so much.

Garden Shop and Seed Swap

A more recent invention has been The Garden Shop And Seed Swap. I conceptualized this, and with the help of two friends, fleshed out the details. Its purpose was to allow fellow gardeners to get together and sell their excess produce, livestock and related crafts and tools at no fee to the seller. The second one will be September 18, at my home. All are welcome to stop by and support their fellow gardeners.

The Garden Shop and Seed Swap has been tons of fun, but a lot of work and has taken up a great amount of my time. After the September 18 event I will no longer be associated with that page and it will be managed by another. I am focusing more at home and on my grass roots permaculture projects and related gardening and food forest starts. I will eventually create new events that will be more aligned with my passions. The garden starts are reflected on my page: Fran’s Backyard Nursery.



Regardless of how my gardens have evolved, my main focus has always been to demonstrate what anyone can do at home on a small suburban lot.

About the author


Welcome to my blog! I’m Cricket (yes, my parents named me that!) and I’m a natural homesteader. Growing up in rural Idaho with a garden, a horse, and lots of canned food, I like to bring those sensibilities to my suburban home in Phoenix, Arizona. Add a little dose of cottage garden flavor and permaculture tendencies, and you’ll see why GardenVariety.Life is a reflection of everything I do.

I truly enjoy sharing the skills that promote a meaningful and practical connection to our gardens and environment. Because so many residents of the metro phoenix area are transplants, I find that the area’s unique desert climate is often misunderstood and underestimated in terms of what is possible. That’s where the fun begins. Arizona is a burgeoning permaculture haven with homesteading written all over it, and there is nothing I enjoy more than encouraging others to jump in and give it a try.