There is a very cute 1969 Bug at the Tucson Botanical Gardens, but you may have difficulty driving this particular car: it’s filled with plants!
At the front of the car, under the hood, is a 10-year-old saguaro. Queen agaves appear to sprout from the headlights, and Mexican fence post cacti (pachycereus marginatus) project from the driver-side window. The rear window is taken over by a Peruvian apple cactus while echeveria decorate the wheels. Dominating the whole scene is a yucca bursting through the roof.
This horticultural marvel, which would surely delight the 16th century Italian painter Arcimboldo, was created in three days by the Gardens’ Horticulture Manager, Adam Farrell-Wortman.
The idea, he said, developed from a flower car at a botanical garden in Houston. It was decorated on the outside, but Farrell-Wortman inverted the idea by “planting the inside and letting the plants come out. There are no rare species here – the concept is taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary.” Together with a World War II ammunition trailer that has been converted into a portable farm that grows vegetables, herbs, and flowers, this temporary exhibit is a great reason to visit the Gardens soon. “You can stand here for 20 minutes and see something new,” said Matthew Adamson, director of marketing and communications for the TBG.
The trailer and farm are just for openers on a visit here, with 5.5 acres to explore in this property that was originally owned by the Porter family. Rutger Porter moved here from New York in 1931 to alleviate his asthma condition. After marrying Bernice that year, they moved into a house whose address is now 2150 N Alvernon Way. Much of the original homestead remains; for example, the dining room of their house is now the gift shop. The delightful little shed, used by his housekeeper Edna Johnson, is one of the outdoor exhibits, as is an octagonal fountain built in his memory. It was Bernice, an avid gardener, to whom we owe the preservation of this homestead. She lived here till her death in 1983, but donated the property to the city in 1968. The TBG started in 1974. In a normal year, the Gardens are now visited by 100,000 people.
Aside from the numerous flowers (a wide array of irises are still in bloom now) there is also art to be savoured at TBG. An exhibit that began last year, which has been held over to the present due to the virus disrupting the normal flow of things, features the work of Tucson artist Kyle Johnston. More than a dozen of his colourful, geometric paintings are here and for sale, with prices ranging from $300 to $950.
One of the delights of any garden is water, so having lots of fountains in a desert setting is really special. The most impressive of all is a rectangular modernist, geometric-style waterfall of large proportions. This one was not built to last, as it was meant only as a temporary installation, but hopefully it can be redone in long-lasting materials as it is a truly stunning sight. It was designed by Wesley Fawcett Creigh, a local scenic artist.
With some 4,000 species on view here, there is something for every taste, and surely plants you have never seen before, such as the silver torch (cleistocactus strausii) cactus from Bolivia and Argentina. And speaking of taste, no visit to the TBG is complete without a visit to Edna’s Eatery, named in honour of the Porter family housekeeper. It is operated with a high culinary standard by Westward Look Resort, and is open from 830am to 3pm, 7 days a week. I had a fine posole, with lots of hominy, and a tasty turkey sandwich. It’s a fine place to eat outdoors in the peaceful surroundings of a botanical gardens Tucson can be proud of.
An upcoming exhibit, Seeing The Invisible, will feature an interactive experience for visitors to view artworks on their phone or tablet that relate to the plants they see as they walk through the gardens. Until virus restrictions fully ease, the butterfly house is closed for indoor visitors, but you can watch the butterflies online a 24-hour livestream, on the website.
Tucson Botanical Gardens is located just south of Grant Rd, off Alvernon Way.
Visit their website: TucsonBotanical.org
Mr. Johnson’s works can be viewed on his website: kylejohnston.homestead.com
Desert Columbine (aquilegia chrysantha)