Tucson’s Worst Best-Kept Secret

| April 22, 2011
Picture of diners in hummingbird garden

Dining patio in hummingbird garden

Imagine collecting a slew of national and local honors and still being named as One of the Top 22 Secret Gardens in the United States by National Geographic Traveler. That would be Tohono Chul Park, Tucson’s “Hidden Oasis” which has been named one of the World’s Top Ten Great Botanical Gardens by Travel + Leisure, is designated as an official Arizona Treasure, and has garnered too many other awards to list.

I emphasize “Secret” because so many Tucsonans have never visited this fabulous Park. Tohono Chul covers 49 acres just west of Ina and Oracle and yet is so “natural”, that thousands of commuters pass by every day and never see it. But the Park is too good to be missed – a true mecca of art and culture, learning and education, all focused on the rich desert environment and culture that we enjoy.

Picture of performer

Native flute player at Holiday Nights

There are 2 uniquely quaint gift shops nestled in the adobe buildings that used to be homes. These tax-free Museum Shops showcase the creations of regional artists and Native American jewelry as well as surprise visitors with delights like prickly pear syrup, kokopelli coffee, and a nook full of books on the history, geology, food and culture of the southwest. These shops are a must-see when searching for that special gift.

Another discovery for first-time visitors is the Exhibit House. Located in the original thick walled adobe home built on the property when Tucson was but a distant vista, there are actually 3 distinct galleries, including a mini-exhibit that features an Artist of the Month. Thematic exhibits cover diverse media and styles and change every 8 weeks. Currently featured in the Exhibit Hall is Pattern and Rhythm, an exploration of the stunning patterns and textures of the natural world.

Picture Container Garden

Desert-friendly foods in container garden. Notice the rainwater cistern on left.

Much of the Park features gardens that replicate Arizona biomes or demonstration gardens where visitors can get ideas for home or learn the techniques of water harvesting or growing healthy desert-acclimated foods. Native plants, and desert adapted species from all over the world are available for purchase in the Retail Greenhouse.

Tohono Chul has become a premier destination for weddings set in the lovely Grotto or the expansive Performance Garden. Facilities, including garden areas and classrooms in the Education Center are available for rent.

Moms and children in Children's Garden

Educational programs for kids in the Children's Garden

Tohono Chul Park’s mission focuses heavily on public education and advocating for the responsible habitation of our environment. In addition to the huge cadre of volunteers who staff the shops and greenhouses, there is a group of highly trained Docents who focus on educational activities. Docents go through 18 weeks of training, learning everything from the nest building habits of local birds to effective presentation skills. They are always on hand to give tours of the Park and answer questions. They are the Park’s ambassadors to local schools and community organizations, giving lectures and training on the ecology of the desert, and of being good stewards to our land. The volunteers and docents work 7 days a week supporting every part of the Park’s functions.

picture of snake bench in children's garden

Snake Bench featured in the Children's garden

Tohono Chul is entirely funded through membership fees, fundraising events, and sales of merchandise at the Park. Some of the major events are a Spring and Fall Plant Sale, the Sonoran Spring Celebration, and the most fabulous Christmas light show in town, Holiday Nights. There are also concerts, educational travel opportunities, and classes. It’s a busy place.

To inquire about volunteering, or about becoming a docent (docent classes are held once a year beginning in October), contact Min Johnson, Docent Coordinator, at 742-6455 x235.

You can visit the Park’s website here. Find them on Facebook for frequent pictures of hummingbirds and reptiles spotted by docents, and pictures of trips to ruins and bird habitats throughout the southwest.

Don’t let this fabulous park be a secret to you!

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Category: Nonprofit Focus

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