Spring Blooms at Mission Garden

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Community Outreach manager Dena Cowan tells us that spring has arrived at the four-acre agricultural and cultural Mission Garden showcase, built on the original site of the San Agustin mission along the floodplains of the Santa Cruz nearby A Mountain. Her update follows:

Mission Gaden
Garden Ramada overlooks heirloom fruit trees. Photo Credit: Leigh Spigelman
  • Gardens are ever-changing and evolving and Mission Garden is certainly no exception to this rule. As Dena writes these words the apricots, quinces and sweet limes are blooming, and the grapes and figs are already leafing out, the latter also displaying a promising array of incipient fruits.
  • There is quite an impressive show of pollinators and wildflowers, including poppies, marigolds, brittlebush, a variety of fiddle-necks, globe mallows… and of course the abounding London Rockets and malvas, most of which the Mission Garden crew has felt obligated to “weed out” of the orchard. The appearance of such a profusion of spontaneous plants has given rise to a beneficial opportunity to learn about each and every species, as we have been faced with the conundrum of which to remove and which to let be. An attempt to come to a consensus in this regard and establish a Mission Garden Weed Policy has not proven an easy task, but a visit by 30 sophomores from Salpointe High School on February 15th as part of a service project in conjunction with Tucson Clean & Beautiful made it imperative!

    In addition to yanking out some Buffelgrass growing on the corner of Mission Road and Mission Lane (there is still a lot more Buffelgrass out there in case anyone has a penchant for that sort of thing!) the well-meaning students also helped remove kernels from cobs of the ancient varieties of Chapalote corn that we harvested from the Timeline Garden in the fall. Some of these kernels will be returned to Native Seeds/Search, others will be planted in the garden this summer, and still others will be packaged and traded for donations, a new addition to our fledgling San Agustin Mission Garden Seed Collection.

  • The forest buffer planted outside the wall along Mission Road is flourishing with spring growth, the barrel cacti in the Native Plant Area are loaded with fruit, the heirloom variety of chard in the Winter Garden is bursting with future seed, zillions of potential new extremely hardy desert-adapted and exceedingly prolific plants, also to be added to the seed collection.
  • This semester Mission Garden is fortunate to be working with two interns from the U of A’s School of Geography and Development — Community and School Garden Workshop, one of whom is interested in the business side of agriculture and will be helping Mission Garden develop its seed and produce marketing strategy. The other is a graduate student in landscape architecture and aims to draft some proposals for the ideal placement of several heritage olive trees grown from cuttings from the Statehood-era trees in the U of A arboretum. She is also acting as liaison with the Mission Garden project with Manzo Elementary School (more on that later), and works with Trees for Tucson, with whom Mission Garden will organize a series of workshops for the Tucson High Magnet School garden community.
  • February was particularly busy as Mission Garden took advantage of the pruning season to initiate a volunteer training program through two pruning, propagating and grafting workshops sponsored by the LEAF Network and given by Sonora Arizona Desert Museum Education Specialists, Marie Long and Jesús García. Moreover, Mission Garden is thrilled to attest to the successful development of Phase II, Educational Propagation Program, with Manzo Elementary School. Students from the third grade ecology class came to the Garden on February 11th for the second of four field trips scheduled this year. They split into groups and by turns went back 4000 years in a time-machine that traveled through the history of agriculture in the Tucson Basin; they helped prune some of the descendants of the fruit trees that were brought here from the Old World hundreds of years ago by the missionaries; they planted and labeled the resulting cuttings, tasted some of their fruits and took the cuttings back to their school greenhouse, where they will grow them out.
  • Iskashitaa Refugee Network has also joined Mission Garden to grow out some of the season’s cuttings in their own greenhouse. With all this TLC Mission Garden hopes to have many young trees to share with the community in the coming years and that the Kino Heritage Fruit Trees will once again be growing and producing storied and delicious heirloom fruit in backyards all around town.
  • Mission Garden is not only embracing the future conveyers of this legacy, but also honoring its pioneers. On Sunday March 9th a gathering was held at the Garden in honor of eminent local historian Arnold Smith, and Los Descendientes del Presidio de Tucson who initially helped raise the funds that enabled Mission Garden to become a reality.
  • Mission Garden is now looking forward to preparing this year’s planting of the Timeline Gardens, the first of which were planted last summer and replicated the agricultural traditions here in Tucson prior to European contact; and further developing the Native Plant Area with additional cacti and interpretive ‘vignettes’.


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