Growing a Food Forest in the Mohave Desert

An Idea was Planted

When we bought the previously abandoned property, now known as Pistachio Palms, in February of 2008, the name was based on the fanciful names of dingbat apartments from the 1950s and came simply from the color paint. But when it was time to consider landscaping the front yard, and since there was already a wild Washington palm growing in the front corner, planting a pistachio tree or two seemed like a no-brainer. After a visit to the original Desert Demonstration Garden on Alta Drive and a chance meeting with Peter Duncombe, curator of the garden, we found that pistachios would do quite well here… So it started out simply, with three pistachio trees in the front yard (two girls and a boy) and a few edible cacti (aloes and agave).


Then as the master plan for the yard grew, so did our collection of trees and plants. Since embarking on improving the original WholeWay Home property, we have endeavored to grow as many medicinal and edible plants as possible on our site, maximizing the ‘food forest’ potential by espalier techniques, pruning, companion planting, and multiple trees in one hole. The collection was initially inspired by the edible bio-dynamic principles and plants of the Essenes in the Middle East and Egypt. We knew that these food producing plants did historically well in another desert area of the world… This is often called a Biblical Garden. These included plant foods mentioned in the bible such as figs, olives, jujubes, pistachios, dates, pomegranates and grapes. (

The Master Plan

After the initial ideas were outlined, the plant collection grew to include basically any plant that could weather it through our intense climate zone. We had to start the project slowly, due to some legal complications with the property, but eventually those were over and by 2011, we were planting in earnest.

Surprisingly, we found that the frost was more dangerous to most plants than the 110 degree heat! For instance, citrus endeavored through the Summer, but took a beating when chilly frost in Winter hit. Plants that came from other extreme or harsh climates, such as India and the Himalayas also surprised us in being quite well adapted to the Mohave desert. These included several varieties Goji Berries (or Wolf Berries), Ginsengs and He Sho Wu, among others.



When we were able to acquire an additional vacant abandoned property across the street at a pure ‘fire sale’ price the following year, it meant a ton of sweat equity work (every window was broken, save one, and the place was tagged from top to bottom), but is also meant even more land on which to plant more food-producing foliage. This time the front yard was designed to teach neighborhood kids (and adults) about eating off the land. We participated in Clark County Commissioner, Chris Giunchuliani’s Little Free Library initiative, and started the Little Free Downtown Health Library (Charter #33110) in 2015.


Now that we have many trees firmly established and starting to produce, we have been working towards a Permaculture approach with the remainder of the plantings, mixed with traditional Mid Century Modern (MCM) Landscape design inspired by the legendary Garret Eckbo. This means, that we intend to have layers and interactions of permie principles with a pleasing MCM architectural DESIGNED approach to the garden – creating living space nooks and crannies and outdoor ‘rooms.’ The focus is on useful livability that just so happens to include food producing surrounding plant life. We will discuss our approach to Permaculture in a follow-up blog post, which includes places for ‘natural’ man to rest, do yoga, meditate, play, or converse.