Arizona has a reputation for being a dry, desert state. While it’s true that southern Arizona cities such as Tucson and Phoenix are known more for hearty tropical foliage, head north to Flagstaff and you’ll find a lush, green landscape dominated by tall evergreens and colorful wildflowers.
At about 6,900 feet above sea level, this laid-back town looks more like the ski village of Park City, Utah than a dusty desert. Plenty of flowers grow wild. Heavy winter snows melt in late spring, paving the way for mountain violets, foxglove and prairie sunflowers. At the height of summer, the brilliant yellow sunflowers cover portions of the San Francisco peaks, creating scenery fit for a Gaugin painting.
Flagstaff is also an ideal planting zone for a myriad of blooms. Part of the Colorado Plateau region, summer highs average in the mid-70s. Regular rains and nutrient soil have prompted many locals to plant seasonal flower gardens designed to attract “good” bugs: pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Here are five of the city’s most scenic gardens that you won’t want to miss.
The slithery name of Northern Arizona University’s pollinator garden may not inspire comforting images, but this well-tended organic plot draws students and visitors looking for quiet respite. Its brilliant fuchsia and gold buds are designed to attract birds and insects that help to pollinate crops. Take a seat on one of the wooden benches and keep your camera phone ready to snap the perfect butterfly shot.
Though the Willow Bend Environmental Education Center’s primary focus is on animals, the facility is home to five gardens including lizard, forest, pond & wetland habitats plus wildflowers and a medicinal garden. For $5, guests can pre-arrange a guided 30-minute tour of the gardens by contacting Moran at 928-779-1745 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, it’s free. Visit the Willow Bend website for current hours.
Founded in 1981 by longtime Flagstaff resident Frances McAllister, The Arboretum includes 200 acres of natural woodland forest land, several greenhouses, planted gardens and a butterfly enclosure. Look for 750 species of plants, most of which are native to the Colorado Plateau. The garden also hosts summer concerts, Shakespeare in the Park and a fall pumpkin walk, in addition to classes on planting and nature conservation. Seasonal hours are 9-5 Wednesday through Monday (Closed Tuesdays) and regular adult admission is $10 ($5 for children).
About an hour’s drive south, Sedona offers a charming, secluded space that’s perfect for a quiet picnic or reading a book. Native plants and flowers that attract hummingbirds cover the petite quarter-acre spot. Look for a handcrafted pool mosaic and a hidden arbor.
Named for the owner’s grandmother, Viola’s started out as a small nursery in a defunct Kmart Garden Center location. They’ve expanded twice since then, with pots of colorful pansies, geraniums, delphinium and more spilling across the patios of their new digs on State Route 89A. The garden operates as a retail nursery, but the beautifully planted grounds overlooking Flagstaff’s countryside are available for weddings and events. Open 8-6 Monday through Friday; 8-5:30 Saturday and 9-5 Sunday.