Arizona Finds: Tucson Botanical Garden


By Linda Kissam “Food, Wine & Shopping Diva”


BIG BLEND RADIO: Linda Kissam and Matt Adamson discuss the visitor experience at Tucson Botanical Gardens. Listen here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Podbean and SoundCloud.


When you think of botanical gardens, Arizona might not come immediately to mind. But if you do your research, you’ll find that Arizona has some distinct characteristics that pretty much can’t be found anywhere else in the United States, setting it up to produce some amazing gardens.

Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is unique among deserts in the world. One distinctive feature is that Arizona has two rainy seasons. A typical desert is lucky to have one “wet” season. The amount of rain received allows this desert to have an extensive diversity of plant and animal life. BTW, Arizona is the only state amongst the lower 48 to actually have jaguars.

I bet you didn’t know that Arizona has one of the longest fall seasons in the US. Locals and visitors can watch the fall changes over a three to four-month period. The fall colors begin in Flagstaff, in the North, then meander further south down to the Arizona border where fall colors can be experienced until late December.

One of the areas in Arizona that demonstrate what Arizona gardens can “be,” is Tucson. Known for its dramatic beauty, spectacular cacti, zesty climate, and notable dark night skies (making it one of the best cities in the United States for stargazing) it is also the wettest desert in the country resulting in a very specific microclimate that is quite different from other Arizona cities such as Phoenix.

Tucson Botanical Gardens is a standout among the several gardens available to the public to peruse. Established in 1974, it is an urban-based showcase of plants that did not start out as a public garden. It was originally the home of Rutger and Bernice Porter. In 1968 Bernice donated the property to the City of Tucson with the stipulation that it become a botanical garden. In 1974 the City of Tucson and the Tucson Botanical Gardens began jointly administering the property. Tucson Botanical Gardens now presents as 17 distinct plots across more than 5 acres. It is located in a residential area with good access to the I-10.

This charming botanical garden is compact in size, with mature trees providing shade along the paths and plenty of benches to rest on—the perfect way to enjoy a busy day of viewing hummingbirds, cardinals, quail, butterflies, olive trees, dwarf citrus trees, bearded iris, wildflowers, and cacti.

Rather than extensively laid out formal collections, this is a garden that shows plants in mini settings. Within each presentation expect to find unexpected visual treats such as sculpture, art rooms, attractive pergolas, ocotillo “fences”, special events, artistically tiled benches, birdbaths, and the awesome magic of butterflies set within a tropical greenhouse.

Six of my favorite areas (of the 17 available to see) are the Iris Garden, the Pollinator Garden, the Zen Garden, the Herb Garden, the Barrio Garden, and the Wildflower Garden. Each is accessible and special.

October through April is ideal to visit the gardens because the temperatures tend to be more moderate than in the summer months. That said, summer visits will also be enjoyable if you watch the weather and plan your visit accordingly. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays tend to be most crowded; Tuesdays tend to be least crowded. Early mornings offer the advantage of being less hectic and cooler, but any time of day can be nice depending on the weather and your constitution.

A special note to my dog-loving readers. Tucson Botanical Gardens allows dogs in the summer months of June – September. For a one-time summer visit, you can purchase a doggy ticket. Alternatively, you can purchase your dog a membership for the months of June through September and receive an endearing dog tag.

This garden is a place for everyone. It is kid-friendly. It is a great date-night venue. Singles will feel safe and comfortable. Seniors will find the walkways easy to navigate. Artistic types are going to be amazed at the array of creative art in public places. Some things change seasonally, some displays are permanent…others rotate. Wear comfortable shoes and sunblock. A portion of the pathway is gravel, so closed-toed shoes work best.

Allow 1-2 hours to visit the garden and have breakfast or lunch. Edna’s Eatery is on the garden grounds and is a relaxing spot to grab a bite to eat while immersing yourself in flora, butterflies, and singing birds. The menu is creatively written up with sections “from nature”, “above ground”, and “for our up and coming botanists.” I am told all the produce comes from the gardens and other local vendors. Lunchtime standouts are the Waldorf salad ($11), the Barbequed Free Range Chicken Tostado ($10), and the Arizona Orange refreshing smoothie ($8).  Edna’s Eatery is open daily with breakfast from 8:30 – 11:30 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. Admission to the Gardens is required for the restaurant.

Edna’s Eatery Avocado Guacamole Recipe

4 avocados (shell away peel, core – medium dice)
2-T fresh lime juice
2-T olive oil
2-T chopped red onion
2-T rough chop cilantro
1-T diced Serrano pepper (more if you like it hot!)
Salt to taste


Mix well, but don’t smash up the avocado too much we want it identifiable!

I’ve visited botanical gardens all over the world and am myself a nonprofit specialist. What I know for sure is that it takes a special administrative team to keep botanical gardens relevant. This particular nonprofit is lucky to have found a unique combination of guardians mentored by visionary executive director Michelle Conklin, CFRE, and her board of 13 directors. They all understand what success looks like. Their dedication to both maintaining what they inherited, nurturing what is working, yet constantly looking for special projects, art, sculpture, classes, and events to entice new and return visits is admirable to say the least. Be sure to check out their website for ticket prices, general information, and truly exciting upcoming events.

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Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’ is a professional travel, food, and wine writer who specializes in easy, breezy destination stories sharing her favorite things about the places she visits. Visit

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Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’ is a professional travel, food, and wine writer who specializes in easy, breezy destination stories sharing her favorite things about the places she visits

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