Padre Kino’s Legacy Lives in Wild Lands, Mission Garden

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Mission Garden Stew
Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace Board member Donna Tang serving her fantastic tepary stew. Photo by Dena Cowan.

A four-acre agricultural and cultural showcase is now flourishing as Mission Garden, built on the original site of the San Agustin mission, in the floodplains of the Santa Cruz alongside A Mountain.

Community Outreach manager Dena Cowan gives us this update about the trees and plantings that are part of our now thriving Mission Garden:

  • 121 Kino Heritage Fruit trees were planted March 2012, including quince, pomegranate, fig, peach, plum, apricot, Mexican Sweet Lime and Seville Orange trees, with some already bearing fruit. Thanks to superb care by operation’s manager Bill O’Malley, supervision by arborist Libby Davison, and pruning by horticulturalist Alfredo González (fruit trees) and Kino Heritage Fruit Trees project director Jesús García (grapes), in late spring the apricots already provided a modest amount of delicious fruit, and the figs, quinces, pomegranates and grapes have produced relatively abundant crops. Mission grapevines also are growing now in the Garden in two traditional ways: arbor-style and goblet-style.
  • All crops are offered for tastings at the Garden during Saturday morning tours, which, until further notice, are offered for free (donations welcome). The crop of pomegranates has been so abundant that Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace was able to harvest and sell some in traditional Sonoran-style string ristras at its annual Tucson’s Birthday Celebration Breakfast held August 25 at Mercado San Agustín, helping raise much-needed funds for the Garden’s maintenance.
  • In Fall 2012, with guidance and supervision of ethnobotanist Muffin Burgess, and seeds donated by Jesús García and Native Seeds/Search (NS/S), a traditional winter garden was planted in a basin especially set aside for this purpose in the midst of the fruit-tree orchard. The varieties planted included heirloom Magdalena Acelgas, Heirloom Magdalena Cilantro, Heirloom Magdalena Fava Beans, Sonoran White Wheat, Pima “Club” Wheat, NS/S Heirloom Orach Greens and NS/S Heirloom Tarahumara Mostaza Greens. Over the winter, friends and visitors enjoyed the crops and, in the spring, the wheat and other seeds were harvested.
  • In partnership with NS/S, which provided its seed-cleaning clipper and workshop with Melissa Kruse-Peeples and Evan Safro , seeds were cleaned, and then packaged, and Mission Garden has recently begun to offer its own line of Heritage Mission Garden Seeds.
  • A Monsoon Garden was planted this summer. The varieties sown include cowpeas, Mayo Watermelon, Mayo Blusher Squash, Melon de Castilla, Chichiquelite, Sorghum, red beans, six varieties of chilies, basil, sage and epazote.
  • Also this summer, with the guidance and help from Tohono O’odham Museum & Cultural Center Education Director Bernard Siquieros and other elders of the Tohono O’odham tribe, Mission Garden prepared the soil and planted the first phase of its Timeline Garden, again, in partnership with NS/S, which donated the precious heirloom seeds. This Timeline Garden represents 4,000 years of agriculture in the Tucson Basin. It consists of an early agriculture area, whose contours are based on findings from Las Capas archeological site in Marana, featuring sunflowers, Teosinte Corn, Chapalote Corn, Wild Cushaw Squash and Wild Tepary Beans; a Hohokam area, where there is Chapalote Corn, Magdalena ‘Big Cheese’ Squash and Speckled Tepary Beans; and an O’odham Garden, with white and brown Tepary Beans, 60-Day Corn and Ha:l Squash. Also sown in the Timeline Garden are Keli Baso Melons and Tohono O’odham Watermelons.
  • Although still a work-in-progress, the Native Plant Area is also growing now at Mission Garden. It is conceived to represent three basic zones in the Arizona Uplands: the rocky tops, the slopes and the low, flat silty basins. These three areas are where people traditionally have gathered wild edible foods such as agave, mesquite, saguaro, prickly pear, palo verde, cholla, jojoba and wolfberry to supplement sedentary agriculture.
  • Mission Garden also has planted many other native plants outside its western wall along Mission Road, and it is currently in the initial planning stages to plant more native plants outside its north wall along Mission Lane, to recreate the historically tree-lined lane. This project stems from Mission Garden’s overarching goal to carry out some of the original plans of Tucson’s Origins Park.
  • In the near future Mission Garden aims to plant a full-fledged vineyard of mission grapes in an effort to re-create and preserve the mission grape variety and mission wine-making tradition.

The first Mission Garden Seeds packets will be available for purchase/donation at Mission Garden as of Saturday, September 7, from 8:00 am to 12 Noon, or by contacting the Garden via email: In the weeks ahead, the Garden also plans to set up a farm stand to sell seasonal items, again on Saturday mornings. Next Saturday, for example, the remaining, recently-harvested pomegranates strings, as well as seeds from the winter garden and Mission Garden T-shirts, will be available.

Pomegranate Harvest
TMY tradition bearer and Mission Garden Kino Tree Project’s Jesús García (third from right) and volunteers created beautiful traditional strings (ristras) of pomegranates, which were part of Sunday, August 25’s Tucson Birthday-Mission Garden celebration and fundraiser. Image courtesy of William O’Malley.

Says Dena: “All the activities and accomplishments would not have taken place if it were not for the hard work and dedication of a large number of volunteers, and the generosity of many donors, a number so large they cannot be listed here, but who are not only much appreciated but absolutely essential to all operations at Mission Garden.”


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