When it comes to scenic beauty, I know few cities that can compete with Tucson. I’m talking not just about the untamed wild (like the five mountain ranges that surround the city) but also “preserved” nature, including Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson Botanical Gardens—and Tohono Chul Park.
I’m sure most Tucsonites are familiar with Tohono Chul, but many visitors have probably never heard of it. That’s a real pity because in a town with fewer natural attractions it would take center stage.
“Horse,” a sculpture by Kioko Mwitiki made of reclaimed metal
As I said in my 2013 post, Tohono Chul Park is 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.
Not that I think my opinion matters much in the grand scheme of things, but I highly recommend a side trip to Tohono Chul Park. And if you’re a member of another botanical garden, chances are you’ll get in for free under the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal Admissions Program.
Styrofoam cups protecting the Mexican fence post cacti (Pachycereus marginatus) that surround Kioko Mwitiki’s horse sculpture
Sin Agua Garden interpretive sign (“sin agua” means “without water” in Spanish)
Ironic (although undoubtedly necessary) that there was plenty of agua dispensed elsewhere in the park
The largest and most unruly Agave weberi I’ve ever seen
It may look like somebody spilled a barrel of pickles, but it’s just Echinocereus pentalophus
Frost cloths were a common sight on this trip
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.” (1) This PDF has a complete listing of all the plants found in the Desert Living Courtyard.
“Regal Horned Lizard”…
…by Dave Stone (cement over wire mesh)
Chiltepin (Capsicum annuum)
Does anybody know what this grass might be? Could it be little bluestem (Andropogon scoparius)?
Outdoor Living garden
Outdoor Living courtyard
Slipper plant (Pedilanthus bracteactus)
Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae)
Yellow wall and ocotillo fence in Barrio Garden
Ocotillo fence detail
Palo blanco trees (Mariosousa willardiana)
The Demonstration Garden “presents many ideas for creating a desert oasis at your home using native plants and local materials.” (2) I loved the covered patio with built-in seating and outdoor fireplace. If I lived in the desert, this is what I would want in my backyard.
It may be a staircase to nowhere but it’s a cool place to display potted plants
Agaves and opuntias in a sea of leaves. Reminded me of my own garden.
One of many paths criss-crossing the park
Old palo verde and Cereus grandicostatus
Another bench where it’s important that you look before you sit down
Octotillo (Fouquieria splendens) and saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)
Octotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
One of many stunning boulders in the park. According to its plaque, this one is “azurite, drusy vugs of malachite, chrysocolla, calcite quartz, sulfides and iron oxides.” Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what a “drusy vug” is. I looked it up and promptly forgot. I think it’s similar to a vuggy druse.
Another chiltepin (Capsicum annuum)
Desert milkweed (Asclepias subulata)
The Retail Greenhouse with its adjacent outdoor sale areas is a fantastic place to buy plants. Its mission is “to grow and sell appropriate southwest and arid-adapted plants that promote water conservation and support wildlife, especially native pollinators, and to provide accurate information on the care and use of these plants in the landscape.” (3)
The selection was large and the prices were very reasonable. The 5-gallon Agave gentry ‘Jaws’ below was $25.
Big selection of ocotillos, most lilkely grown from seed
Lots of desert shrubs
I’m including this smoke tree (Psorthamnus spinosus) because I would see magnificent specimens at The Living Desert in Palm Desert, CA a few days later
Perfect specimen of Opuntia sulfurea, a steal at $20. Did I buy it? No! Do I regret it? You bet!
Perennials suitable for desert gardens
Sundrops (Calylophus hartwegii) maybe common here, but not in the Sacramento Valley—where they thrive (I have a handful of plants I grew from seed).
I can’t ever get enough of ocotillo fences
Chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata) loves the heat and should be planted much more widely
Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) had been on my want list for years. Now I have one.
The selection of trees was smaller this time than two years ago but there were still some nice specimens, like these palo blancos (Mariosousa willardiana)
Ocotillo fencing for sale
And here is my haul (check this post for a description). In hindsight, I should have bought a lot more plants…