National readers of this blog will have to indulge me in writing again on sorrowful "news from home." Baker Nursery will be closing after 46 years in operation. Businesses come and go, we grow to love some of them, the verities of the marketplace don't care.
But this is a punch in the gut.
Baker's is a remnant of old Phoenix, the magical oasis, a garden city where people took special pride in bringing the bounty out of this timeless alluvial soil, where even the simplest apartments were lovingly landscaped. It is a remnant of the distinctive eastern part of the city that includes Arcadia but so much more. A remnant of when Phoenix was a very middle-class city, before the stark division of rich and poor, before the miles of linear slums.
What could have been more important for the garden city that once flourished here than nurseries? Phoenix once supported many, but Baker's was the best.
My mother was a Baker's customer from the start. Later, as a young man, I would take her to the nursery. She would select plants while I, well, admired the attractive Baker daughters.
When I came back to Phoenix in 2000, my wife Susan latched onto Baker's. She spent weeks removing the gravel that had been thoughtlessly thrown into the flower beds of our 1914 bungalow on Holly Street in Willo. Then she planted bushes, plants and flowers from Baker's into the grateful earth. It helped make the house a showpiece, brought it back to how it was intended to be: a personal oasis and gift to be treasured for the neighborhood and the future.
My mother died years ago. The house gained new owners when the Republic and the local bigs ran me out of town — and they threw down gravel.
Returning to Baker's is like stepping back into the rural character that defined this part of town. It's lush, shady and unpaved, like visiting a farm. This is part of the land where Osborn Road doesn't extend. On a hot day, the temperature feels as if it has fallen twenty degrees.
You can easily imagine the groves, date farms, orchards and acreages that proliferated here, the roadside stands, horse properties, towering trees and rugged arroyo of the Crosscut Canal. The major avenues were two lanes with no curbs, many with irrigation canals on each side.
The Crosscut has been paved over for a sun-blasted, treeless "park." The groves are gone, although citrus trees remain on many properties and many easterners complain of the smell of the blossoms. Lost, too, are the roadside stands that sold grapefruits, oranges and melons. The citrus often falls to the ground, attracting rats.
I'm sure some horrid tilt-up crapola something will replace the nursery, gravel and concrete will entomb the green. Few will remember or care. The Baker sisters grew old and so did I.
An appropriate elegy is beyond me. Every city changes. Why does my hometown almost always seem to change for the worse?