A week in the desert, part 3c: Tucson Botanical Garden … and more!

With our desert botanical appetite whetted, Eric and I raced to our next destination: Tucson Botanical Garden. (Actually, we spent a little time with the friends we came to visit first.) TBG isn’t as large as Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden, and far smaller than Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Tucson Botanical Garden began as Rutger and Bernice Porter’s family home (built in the 1920s) and their business, Desert Gardens Nursery. When Rutger Porter died in 1964, Bernice donated the property to the City of Tucson, but she continued to live in the house. Bernice passed away in 1983, and the city deeded the property to Tucson Botanical Garden.

Tucson Botanical Garden map.

Tucson Botanical Garden

This brilliantly back-lit cactus greeted us as we entered the garden. Pity that I didn’t record the name, but it reminded me of my mom’s old crown of thorns … on steroids. It’s not from around here … maybe Madagascar?

Bright green cactus in a pot at Tucson Botanical Gardens.

It’s glowing!

I noticed these women just leaving after a plein air painting session. Perhaps if I lived in Tucson, I’d join them.

Plein air painters leane Tucson Botanic Garden..

Plein air painters scatter.

I noticed large trees that I would not have expected in a desert garden. This was April, and they were just beginning to leaf out.

A large deciduous tree in Tucson Botanical Garden.

A large deciduous tree shades a patio near the Porter house.

A crape myrtle in Tucson Botanical Garden.

A crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia)? In Arizona? These trees have a tropical origin.

The Porters’ original house is now used as an admin and gallery space for the TBG. I circled the building, surprised at the undesert-like leafiness of the plantings.

Porter house at Tucson Botanical Garden.

A patio tucked into a corner.

Porter house at Tucson Botanical Garden.

The back door and sunny garden with roses.

Wall with colorful ceramic appliques at Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Colorful botanical appliques decorate a wall bordering the parking lot.

Shutters made of sticks on Porter house at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Look at these shutters made out of sticks!

Front door at Porter house, Tucson Botanical Garden.

The front door with its shady patio. Straw yellow stucco with sage green trim and surprisingly bright red downspouts.

The shocking periwinkle blue of the adjacent herb garden pergola was the perfect color to make the plants stand out. What a striking color scheme for the desert!

Blue herb garden pergola at Tucson Botanica Garden.

Even on a hot day, these blues look cool.

We walked on through a series of themed desert gardens. The day was hot, in the upper 90s, and shade was hard to come by.

Trail at Tucson Botanical Garden.

The trail winds through the cacti and succulent garden.

piaranthus geminatus Asclepiadaceae at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Funny little Piaranthus geminatus Asclepiadaceae from South Africa. Piaranthus produce beautiful, fleshy star-shaped flowers.

Pink-blooming cactus at Tucson Botanical Garden.

I don’t know what these are, but their little pink blooms are so cute.

Crassula at Tucson Botanical Garden.

A crassula lit by the sun.

Shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana), at Tucson Botanical Garden

It’s a shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana), of course.

Another small house … on the map it’s labeled Friends House. Something about this door and the rustic landscape drew me in. More red and green accenting on an adobe house. Colors that I wouldn’t otherwise put together seem to work here.

Friends House at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Friends House.

On the other side of Friends House, we found yet another structure … this one larger and definitely open. We ate a delicious and memorable lunch at Café Botanica. I highly recommend it for their fresh and local cuisine.

Botanica Cafe at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Looking into Café Botanica. We ate on the patio.

Botanica Cafe at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Market umbrellas usually mean food is near. I was famished.

Cacti in sun at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Outside the restaurant, these cacti glowed in the late afternoon sun.

After a late lunch, our tour was nearly over. We ended it in the Plants of the Tohono O’odom Native American garden.

A fence made from ocotillo branches at Tucson Botanical Garden.

A fence made from ocotillo branches! Handy stuff.

Yellow flowering shrub in Arizona.

Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata chaparralis), or greasewood, is common in the desert Southwest.

Metal sculpture gate at Tucson Botanical Garden.

This stunning gate marked the end of our tour.

I had an epiphany at Tucson Botanical Garden when I came upon a sign that read, in part: “Does this garden seem lush and cool? The Historical Gardens show a gardening style that was popular in Tucson from the 1880s through the 1940s. The landscape choices of those days aimed for a green retreat from the desert and helped keep homes cooler in the decades before air conditioning.”

Informational sign describing historical garden style at Tucson Botanical Garden.

Does this garden seem lush and cool?

Aha! Suddenly it all made sense—my natural attraction to old houses, coupled with my desire (if I lived in Tucson), to push the botanical boundaries by growing an oasis around my house. Something like this, maybe:

Landscaped yard in Phoenix, AZ

This is the kind of landscaping I’d try to achieve in Arizona. More modern, but lush. [photo: Moon Valley Nursery]

And of course, the house would have to be an oldie. Something that Georgia O’Keeffe might like.

After we left the garden, we drove downtown on Broadway. Suddenly we were passing a treasure trove of Tucson’s vintage homes—the kind that get my DIY juices flowing. My head was on a swivel! Granted, at this time of our lives, the last thing Eric and I need is another century-old fixer-upper, but I still enjoy imagining what I’d do with these oft-forgotten little gems.

In the Rincon Heights neighborhood just south of the University of Arizona, we found plenty of these charming southwest bungalows. It’s a very modest neighborhood, and I don’t know how safe it is, but if people restore these homes, the neighborhood will improve. I saw some evidence that this is happening.

Here’s a slide show of a baker’s dozen houses that I love, captured from Google Maps. (Sometimes I don’t feel comfortable pointing a camera at people’s homes.) Notice the interesting ziggurat shapes of their buttress walls, and the repetition of arches. Many have beautiful (and apparently original) red tile roofs and metal-framed windows.

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Whew … these houses need us. But so does our own house here in the Northwest.

I’ll leave you with a sampling of photos from the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Then, we’ll head back to the Northwest. See you next time, Arizona!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

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8 thoughts on “A week in the desert, part 3c: Tucson Botanical Garden … and more!

  1. Nine Dark Moons

    what a wonderful trip you had. so much neat stuff to see that is so foreign to where we normally live. maybe someday i’ll see arizona. loved all the lush trees and details on the houses and grounds.

    Reply

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