Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tucson Botanical Gardens (Tucson, AZ)

Yesterday afternoon (December 29, 2013) our backyard thermometer read 65°F. I was working outside in my t-shirt and I was hot! Crazy, but in a good way. After being sick for 10 days and then gone over Christmas, I finally removed all the frost blankets we had installed for the artic blast in early December. The damage looks to be fairly minor, with only a few losses, but I’m not ready to write about my own garden quite yet. Instead I want to stay in Arizona a little while longer, at least in my mind.

Today’s post is the last one from Tucson. While as a city Tucson is far from perfect—too much sprawl for one thing—it holds a special place in my heart. If I were looking to relocate, it would be near the top of my list.

The last place I visited while I was in Tucson in early December was the Tucson Botanical Gardens (TBG). Like so many public gardens, it started out as a private property. The structure you see in the photo below was the home of the Porter family, built in 1929. Many of the trees and shrubs surrounding the house are typical of what was in vogue in Tucson during the 1930s, 40s and 50s: olives, myrtles, pomegranates and citrus.

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Entrance/Gift Shop

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Lemon tree

Behind the Porter House, which now accommodates the gift shop, a gallery space and the TBG administration, you’ll find the Reception Garden…

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Reception Garden, a popular venue for family and corporate events

…as well as the Herb Garden, complete with fountains and beautiful brick planters.

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Herb Garden

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Herb Garden

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Herb Garden

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Herb plaque

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Gum tree and prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica)

So far, everything looked very cohesive. But then I came across a small Zen garden that seemed completely out of place. I have no idea what its history is, if any, or why it’s there, but it just didn’t fit in.

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Zen Garden

Next to it are four Sensory Patios, small covered spaces that offer different vignettes of outdoor living. Unlike the Zen Garden, they do make sense and look perfectly at home. In fact, they reminded me of the Desert Living Courtyard I’d seen at Tohono Chul Park.

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One of four Sensory Patios

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One of four Sensory Patios

However, what I’d seen up to this point left me vaguely dissatisfied and I was beginning to think I might walk away disappointed. All of that changed in an instant when I got to the Cactus and Succulent Garden. In fact, the Sensory Patio right next to it got me in the mood with a nice collection of potted cacti.

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Unlabeled cactus bowl

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Mixed cactus bowl

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Baseball plant (Euphorbia obesa)

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Crested golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

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Unlabeled cactus nestled among geodes

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Feather cactus (Mammillaria plumosa)

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Feather cactus (Mammillaria plumosa)

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Rare spineless blue barrel cactus (Ferocactus glaucescens forma inermis)

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Astrophytum capricorne

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Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus sp.)

Walking through the Cactus and Succulent Garden and the adjoining areas was like walking through my personal vision of paradise. Unlike the other public gardens I’d already visited on my trip—the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, the 37-acre Tohono Chul Park and the 21-acre Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson—the scale of the 6-acre Tucson Botanical Gardens is much more intimate. In fact, I found it quite easy to imagine that all of this could be the personal property of a family or individual—myself, for instance.

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Mixed succulent bed—looks newly planted to me

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Mexican giant barrel (Echinocactus platyacanthus)

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Mexican giant barrel (Echinocactus platyacanthus)

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Lithops karasmontana var. mickbergensis

As you may have noticed, the beds in the Cactus and Succulent Garden are filled not only with plants but also with the most wonderful rocks. They used to belong to Harrison Yocum who founded the Tucson Botanical Gardens at his home in 1964. After the TBG moved from there to its current home on the old Porter property in 1975, the Yocum’s extensive rock and mineral collection moved along with it.

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Strawberry cactus (Echinocereus stramineus)

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Mexican fire barrel (Ferocactus pilosus)

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Creeping cactus—love the turquoise-colored rock

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Blue form of whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia)

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Green form of whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia)

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Organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) intertwined with mesquite tree

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Agave lophantha

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Agave parrasana

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Aloe buhrii

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Yucca rigida and Astrophytum ornatum

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Astrophytum ornatum

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No clue which cactus this is, but it looks fantastic en masse

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Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) framed by organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi)

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Ferocactus pringlei

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Agave parviflora

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Totem pole cactus (Lophocereus schottii forma monstrosus)

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Ferocactus latispinus

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Agave shrevei ssp. shrevei

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What a nice place to sit!

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One of the most beautiful spots in the Cactus and Succulent Garden

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Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

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Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

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Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

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Agave nickelsiae (formerly Agave ferdinandi-regis)

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Agave parryi var. truncata

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Bamboo muhly grass (Muhlenbergia dumosa)

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Another peaceful spot to sit and a take it all in

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Patio shaded by mesquite tree

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LEFT: Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia)

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LEFT: Aloe marlothii, much more glaucous than the typical form

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LEFT: Yucca rigida    RIGHT: Aloe marlothii

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LEFT: Yucca rigida    RIGHT: Aloe marlothii

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Agave lophantha

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Agave lophantha

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Agave vanbalenii

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Agave karasbergensis

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Eyelash grass (Bouteloua gracilis)

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Yucca rigida

Located in the heart of the TBG, Nuestro Jardín is an example of a garden typical of the Mexican neighborhoods in Old Tucson. This is a small enclosed space, created with inexpensive materials and anything but fancy. Yet it had so much heart that I immediately felt comfortable there. I could easily have hung out for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet under the trees.

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Entrance to Nuestro Jardín (Barrio Garden)

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Shrine in Nuestro Jardín

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Shrine and colorful chairs in Nuestro Jardín

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Shrine in Nuestro Jardín

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Herb planter made from an old tire

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Desert crèche scene

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String of bananas (Senecio radicans)

Eventually it was time to go, but on my way back to the car I snapped a few last photos.

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Agave schidigera ‘Durango Delight’ growing at the base of a massive prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica)

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Agave parryi var. huachucensis

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Mexican grass tree (Dasylirion longissimum)

As I was driving back to my hotel, I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be to live on 5 acres and be able to create my very own botanical garden. Not all at once, but slowly over time…

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6 comments:

  1. The Aloe marlothii is beautiful, and I wouldn't have guessed an Aloe if I hadn't read the name! The Mexican Fire Barrel is also gorgeous, and I could look at Organ Pipe cacti all day long. Really, all of these cactus garden photos you've put up recently are the stuff of dreams. You're so lucky to be able to see such a large (and mature) variety of cacti and agave (and the all rest). Thanks for enabling me to have a virtual wander-through!

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    1. Amy, thank you so much for your kind words! I did feel like a kid in a candy store walking through all those fantastic gardens.

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  2. How in the world did you find out about all these places, Gerhard? Is there a particular website or book you found, word of mouth...? Also, I thought organ pipe cactus were frost sensitive, do they cover the one that's in the first garden for the winter? Sue

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    1. Sue, I'd known of most of these places already but I also did a simple Google search to confirm I wasn't missing anything. There were other places I wanted to see (especially nurseries) but time is short in the winter when it gets dark at 4:30pm.

      Stenocereus thurberi is hardy to 25°F. I know people cover the tips with styrofoam cups but I'm not sure they do that at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. They have many mature trees that provide some degree of protection. I saw quite a few Stenocereus thurberi at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum which is much more exposed, and they all looked happy and healthy so maybe they're hardier than we think?

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    2. Sue, here's a nursery in Tucson I just discovered: http://aridadaptations.com/. They seem to sell their plants at local farmers markets. The next time I'm in town I'll see if I can drop by. Lots of interesting plants, including larger sizes.

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  3. I love how they paired the cactus with different types of rocks. Beautiful!

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