Did You Know: Japanese Flower Gardens Once A South Phoenix Tourist Attraction

This photo of a postcard at Arizona Historical Society in Tempe, shows a Japanese flower garden on Baseline.

Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ

December 06, 2013

Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ
Nick Nakagawa's flower shop, Baseline Flowers, near 38th Street in south Phoenix.

In the years following World War II the base of South Mountain in Phoenix was filled with citrus and vegetable farms. Then a group of residents decided to grow something new.

On Baseline Road and 38th Street there’s a flower shop filled with colorful arrangements. This is not any ordinary shop. It sits on the site of an original Japanese flower garden. It was a Phoenix attraction that caught the attentions of tourists for decades.

The flowers like sweet peas, calendulas, and other annuals grown on Baseline Road supplied much of the country.

“There were acres and acres of flowers here," said 90-year-old Nick Nakagawa. He's one of the first Japanese-Americans who had a flower farm here. "There’s probably over 300 acres of flowers along Baseline at one time."

After World War II, Baseline Road between 48th and 32nd streets was home to many Japanese-Americans who leased land to farm citrus and vegetables until the 1950s, when these farmers discovered a better way to make money.  

“A neighbor was growing a few flowers that looked like a good product to grow so we asked around and he encouraged me to grow flowers. So we start growing flowers and we started supplying the local florist,”  Nakagawa said.

Nakagawa said word about the farms spread quickly. It attracted tourists to the area, especially during the Arizona winter season. The farmers built small stands and tin kiosks to sell their flowers to the public. Holidays like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Christmas were the busiest. At the same time their wholesale business grew.

“Some shippers from San Francisco heard about the flowers that we were growing and they came down and bought them and shipped them to the eastern markets. We were selling about 80 percent of the flowers wholesale,” Nakagawa said.

By the 1970s many of the farmers made enough money to purchase the farms they had leased for so long. Nakagawa eventually owned more than 40 acres of farm land. 

“All of us grew about the same type of flower so it just…it was enough business for everybody," he said.

By the 1980s business began to fade. The farmers couldn’t compete with the booming flower industry in South America. Most farmers began selling their land to home developers. Nakagawa says he was among the last to sell out.

“We can call it progress. We all have to change with time," he said.

And one last fact about growing flowers in this area. Japanese-American flower growers praised the microclimate at the foot of South Mountain. The mountain creates a down draft that keeps the warm air on the ground to protect the valuable crop.