Mission Garden a hidden gem

A four-acre historic garden is coming back to life in Tucson. The Mission Garden has officially occupied its present location since 1770, and yet this landmark does not appear on downtown maps or guides.

It was built to supply the Convento and San Agustin chapel residents and the Tohono I’odham living around its walls. For now, if you can find the foot of A Mountain, you will find yourself impressed at authentic recreations of the buttressed adobe walls that seem miraculous materialization considering our recession.

Father Kino was familiar with the existence of the unlikely; after all, a garden in the desert is an ultimate gesture of faith. What was treasure within 200 years ago is again pertinent as we come to understand that heirloom food crops make sense.

On a recent Tues. afternoon, I called the number on TucsonOrigins.com and spoke to Roger Pfeuffer, who suggested I come on over. Keys in hand, he swung open the rustic mesquite gates to show me the future.

On wrought iron hinges, these gates evidence the attention to detail being lavished upon this project. Two ramadas, one native and the other Spanish offer the only shade from which to absorb the quantity of what has already been achieved.

The ‘Mission Orchard’ section is already thriving with young cultivars of pear, fig, apricot, orange, lime, plum, grapes, pomegranate, and quince- of which one cultivar came directly from Oracle. “All the trees are part of the Kino Heritage Fruit Trees project and are descendants of trees that existed at the time of the Spanish Mission era,” Pfeuffer said.

It’s being achieved through a three-way, five-year agreement between Pima County, the City of Tucson and the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, a 501(c)(3) created to protect and restore the rich cultural treasures, west of the Santa Cruz River adjacent to downtown.

Subsequent phases of Mission Garden are well in place. Planting schemes on paper, water sources that will breathe life into the concrete Acequia with its four channels, and next, a Winter Garden between the dormant fruit trees will feature lentils, garbanzos, epazote,garlic and onions just to name a few.

Work is being carried out on a volunteer basis, and newcomers are welcome to come visit, learn and pitch in. Walking the garden is easy, even for those with a handicap. The paths are wide and covered with fine gravel.

So as you stand taking it all in,it’s impossible not to indulge your imagination,seeingstraw hated gardeners pushing wooden wheel barrows, their rough tunics catching a breeze as they bear in compost and seedlings;the ghosts of things to come.

There are hopes for workshops, lectures, cooking and preparation of native crops, which will teach us how to grow these plants and integrate these foods into our diets.

The current board welcomes involvement and inspiration. Themes of future planting areas echohistory, early agriculture, Hohokam, O’odham, Mexican era, territorial era, and statehood era with a Chinese contribution.

Visiting hours currently are from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m. each Sat. Plan to take a side trip to see for yourself- it’s not far from Desert Survivors, a source for many cultivars you will see installed at San Agustin.

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