Friday, December 20, 2013

Tohono Chul Park (Tucson, AZ)

I brought home something very unexpected and undesirable from my recent Arizona trip: a nasty bug that sidelined me for almost a week—I literally didn’t set foot outside the house for six days—and gave me pinkeye (conjunctivitis) to boot. The last time I had pinkeye was in elementary school! Even now I’m dragging, and I have a hard time making it through the day without wanting to take a long nap. Fortunately Christmas and the promise of a week of relaxation is just around the corner.

In today’s post I’ll take you back to Tucson. We’ll visit Tohono Chul Park, a 49-acre “living museum” that was once the home of a Tucson couple who fought hard to preserve a slice of native desert. Today Tohono Chul—“desert corner” in the language of the Tohono O'odham—combines nature with art and culture. Miles of trails wind through natural areas and demonstration gardens while three art galleries, classroom facilities and a fine-dining tea room offer attractions for people who are less plant-crazy.

For me, the main draw were the natural areas and the gardens so that’s what I focused on. Join me as I walk through Tohono Park on a Monday morning. The place was all but deserted (no pun intended) and it felt like it was all mine.

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Entrance plaza

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Tohono Chul Park Tearoom

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Administrative building; I love the simply architecture

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LEFT: I loooooved this statue by Kenyan sculptor Kioko Mwitiki. It was 6 ft. tall so it wouldn’t fit in my suitcase. At $800, surprisingly affordable. RIGHT: Desert “snow man”

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LEFT: Leafed-out ocotillo and saguaro RIGHT: Bare ocotillo

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Fantastic bench decorated with native minerals

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Copper ore, azurite and malachite

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Azurite and malachite

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Horse sculpture by Kioko Mwitiki in the Cactus Circle Garden surrounded by Mexican fencepost cacti (Pachycereus marginatus)

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Early winter color

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Agave lophantha

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Agave lophantha

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Old palo verde and Cereus grandicostatus

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Velvet mesquite (Prosopsis velutina) and prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii?)

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Velvet mesquite (Prosopsis velutina) and prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii?)

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Palo verde (Parkinsonia sp.) and prickly pear (Opuntia sp.)

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Palo verde (Parkinsonia sp.) and prickly pear (Opuntia sp.)

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Palo verde (Parkinsonia sp.) and prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) all intertwined

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Agave potatorum

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Agave potatorum flower spike with basket to catch the seeds

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Agave franzosinii

The Desert Living Courtyard is “divided into ten distinct garden vignettes, featuring a variety of landscape themes, each designed to demonstrate for homeowners new and creative ideas for using water-conserving plants in livable landscapes combining color, texture and function.”

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Desert Living Courtyard

While the vignettes were on the small side, they do show that it’s possible to create very different environments with plants that require relatively little water without compromising comfort or esthetics.

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The lighting was harsh so I didn’t take many photos, but if you’re interested you can download PDFs with the layout and plant list for each vignette from here.

Another interesting area was the Demonstration Garden which “presents many ideas for creating a desert oasis at your home using native plants and local materials.” The covered patio with built-in seating and outdoor fireplace was stunning.

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Covered patio with outdoor fireplace in Demonstration Garden

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Covered patio with outdoor fireplace in Demonstration Garden

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Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii)

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Backside of Geology Wall with ocotillo fence

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Ocotillo fence

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Particularly green palo verde

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Mexican blue palm (Brahea armata)

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Agave weberi

The Sin Agua Garden (Spanish for “no water”) features “desert landscaping using mostly harvested rainwater. Any homeowner can adapt the landscape concepts demonstrated in this garden to their own landscape. Demonstrations include water harvesting, control and use of runoff, as well as testing native plants for adaptability under the rather challenging conditions of alternating flooding and drought.”

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Sin Agua Garden

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Shade ramada in Sin Agua Garden

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More late-looming wildflowers

I actually spent quite a bit of time here reading the various interpretive signs.

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Rainwater harvesting

I was fascinated by the different gates that make it possible to control the flow of rainwater. While this isn’t practical on a typical urban or suburban lot, homeowners with acreage could easily implement such a system.

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Manually operated gates to direct the flow of rainwater

The Performance Garden “sits beneath a grove of mature sweet acacia trees. Concerts, special events, and lectures are presented in this garden. In addition to being a cool respite from the heat of summer, the performance garden imparts a lush atmosphere of flowers, trees and songbirds for many weddings.”

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Performance Garden

This garden was my favorite space at Tohono Chul. If I lived in the desert, I’d love to have a courtyard like this, shaded by gnarly desert trees. Add a burbling water feature and imagine sitting here at sunset sipping a cool margarita!

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Performance Garden

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Performance Garden

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Performance Garden

Often it’s the smaller things that catch my eyes even more than the grand vistas, like this soaptree yucca and the view of desert flora framed through a window in an adobe wall. To me these vignettes are the very epitome of desert living.

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LEFT: Soaptree yucca (Yucca elata) near restrooms
RIGHT: Desert view framed through window in utility storage area

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Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis)

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Eucalyptus tree in Desert Palm Oasis

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Young palm tree

I knew that Tohono Chul Park had a gift and garden shop, but I wasn’t prepared for the large selection of plants. In fact, the garden shop opens up to a miniature retail nursery, complete with a large selection of desert perennials, shrubs and even trees!

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Palo verde-lined section of retail nursery

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Ocotillo sections for sale—perfect for a living fence

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Shrub and perennial section of retail nursery

I knew that in Tucson the ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde I’d spent so much time looking for at home would be relatively easy to find.

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‘Desert Museum’ palo verde (Parkinson ‘Palo Verde’)…

It was. It was also half the price I’d paid in Sacramento.

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…priced at a super low $30

The La Entrada Greenhouse was very well-stocked, including relatively uncommon caudiciforms and stapeliads, but I ended up resisting and took away nothing but photos and memories.

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La Entrada Greenhouse

Tohono Chul Park is one of the few botanical gardens in Arizona that participate in the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal Admissions Programs so I was able to enter for free. If you’re a member of a participating garden, don’t forget this valuable benefit when you travel.

RELATED POSTS:

Arizona 2013 trip index

8 comments:

  1. Wow, I know where I'm going for spring break! Sorry to hear you've been under the weather, Gerhard. Sue

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    1. I think that's a great idea! I can't wait to go back myself. There's so much to explore...

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  2. Returning from a vacation and getting sick is certainly an unfortunate twist, I am sorry!

    Tohono Chul, I had never heard of it before! Thanks for the introduction, the next time we are in Tucson I will have to look it up.

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  3. What a cool place! Sorry you were sick! Glad you are getting better!

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    1. Thanks, Candy. Air travel in December is always iffy. Too many people, at least some of whom are likely sick, packed on a small plane.

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  4. That was another thoroughly enjoyable photo laden post Gerhard. Love the Cactus Circle Garden and that very green Palo Verde in particular. Sorry to hear you've been unwell with pink eye to boot! Hope you're feeling much much better now.

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