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.
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?
I noticed these women just leaving after a plein air painting session. Perhaps if I lived in Tucson, I’d join them.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
After a late lunch, our tour was nearly over. We ended it in the Plants of the Tohono O’odom Native American garden.
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.”
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: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.
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!