Tucson Botanical Gardens
Backstory and Context
The Tucson Botanical Gardens finds its roots in the young couple of Bernice Walkley and Rutger Bleeker Porter. Neither were Arizona natives; Bernice from New Haven, Connecticut, and Rutger from Hollywood, California, and Rutger had an especially keen interest in plants. Rutger made a living doing landscape work, and in the early 1930s, Bernice’s father hired Rutger to do some work on their land. Bernice and Rutger hit it off immediately, and they were married in 1931. Soon after, the couple began the Desert Gardens Nursery, which was dedicated to growing and celebrating the local plant life.
The Porters’ garden developed from many planting experiments with a mixture of natives and Mediterranean plants. Over the years, the original garden began to reflect the sturdier choices for the Tucson climate. A wonderful landscape of winding walks, low adobe walls, fountains, and lovely greenery evolved around the home. Today, the Historical Garden contains many of the original plants from the Porter estate including citrus, roses, privet, sweet olive, nandina, pomegranate, Aleppo pine, pyrancantha, iris, chaste-tree, jasmine and other plants of that era. The oasis style represented in this garden is typical of large Tucson gardens dating from the 1920s to the mid 1960s.
As the Nursery and their family grew, the Desert
Gardens Nursery moved a number of times, until Rutger retired in 1958, and died
soon after in 1964. That same year, a coalition had come together, headed by
Harrison G. Yocum, to create the Tucson Botanical Gardens. Around that time,
Bernice had begun opening the space of the Desert Gardens Nursery to nonprofits
and other groups, and word got around about the potential formation of a
botanical garden. By the 1970s, Bernice worked together with Harrison’s group,
and the Tucson Botanical Gardens were founded on the property of the Desert
Gardens Nursery. From there, the Gardens continued to expand and gain more
traction through the assistance of horticulturalists and artists alike.
Since it became open to the public, the Tucson Botanical Gardens has renovated and expanded the property while preserving the Porter Family legacy as an important piece of Tucson history.