Local landscape awards competition celebrates the use of native materials to create an oasis in the desert.
By RUSS BUHROW
Special to the Citizen
As life’s pace becomes more hectic, we tend to forget our place in the natural world. Often we retreat to natural places to renew ourselves.
Natural spaces can also be integrated into our homes, so we can experience beauty and joy every day.
Tohono Chul Park on the Northwest Side strives to set an example for residents and visitors of how to create a desert-appropriate oasis. Part of the park’s mission is to foster the use of beautiful native plants and local materials because they use less resources to thrive in this climate.
Knowing there are many examples of landscapes that utilize native plants, the park is hosting a landscape awards competition.
This competition is open to people who have created native landscapes in any space – from container gardens to acre plots. (For complete rules, see the accompanying box.) Here are examples:
- Efficient water-use gardens incorporate water harvesting, drip systems, or conserve water in some other unique or innovative way.
- Desert revegetation gardens and landscapes were planted to bring back the natural look of the desert in an area that was previously bladed or planted with non-native plants.
- Landscaping for wildlife provides landscape habitats and can include plants providing food, shelter, cover and/or artificial water sources for native wildlife, such as birds, butterflies and bats.
- Small gardens use innovative design and interesting plant materials in an area of 1,000 square feet or less.
- Budget gardens ($2,500 or less) combine plants and other materials in innovative and attractive ways while restricting costs.
Because landscaping for wildlife is of such interest to so many people, Tohono Chul Park has included it as one of the categories in its awards. Quail, butterflies, hummingbirds, lizards and many other types of animals are attracted to specific native plants for shelter and food. Many people choose landscaping plants specifically to attract native wildlife.
What does it take to produce a landscape that attracts wildlife? Animals need food, water, shelter and safety just as we do. The kind of food, shelter and water we provide influences which animals appear. To attract specific birds, insects and other animals, we must learn how they live in the wild. We mimic wild places to create wildlife-friendly gardens in town.
To entice animals into your area, begin with food and water. This suggestion goes beyond providing a traditional birdbath and birdseed. A landscape with useful food plants will bring in a surprising variety of animals.
For example, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds depend on the nectar from the flowers of the hummingbird trumpet for food. Bats enjoy the nectar from saguaro flowers. The type of plant you choose depends on the type of animal you would like to attract.
Because water is scarce in the desert, providing it in your garden is an easy way to attract wildlife. Fountains and other water features add the soothing sound of running water and mask unwanted noises.
Hummingbirds love to bathe in shallow running water. Most birds prefer an elevated water source, while other animals prefer water near ground level. Make sure to locate water near escape cover.
Providing animals with safety and shelter will encourage them to stay. For animals, safety is a place nearby to hide from predators. Remember Brer Rabbit begging not to be thrown into the briar patch? Dense, thorny plants provide the best escape cover available.
This vegetation also provides nesting sites and roosts for many birds. Lizards find protection and food in shrubs, dead plant material left on the ground and even piles of rocks.
Cactus wrens nest in cholla, while owls and hawks enjoy perching on tall trees. Varied shapes and textures of escape cover increase the number and kinds of animals that live in a habitat.
Imagine stepping out the back of your home into a space alive with color and swimming with butterflies. You hear the faint sound of running water. As you relax with your breakfast, hummingbirds pause and zip past you, sipping nectar, chomping gnats and engaging in their dances and fights. As one whistles by your ear, you feel the wind from its wings on your face. Landscaping for wildlife has created a personal Garden of Eden.
Russ Buhrow is grounds curator at Tohono Chul Park.
Here’s a list of native plants that fit well in a wildlife garden:
Shrubs, herbaceous, cactuses or succulents: Arizona wild cotton, barrel cactus, brittle bush, desert hackberry, desert honeysuckle, desert lavender, desert mistletoe, Gooddings verbena, grama grass, graythorn, hummingbird trumpet, indigo bush, jojoba, jumping cholla, ocotillo, Palmer’s agave, Parry penstemon, prickly pear, saguaro, Texas sage, wolfberry.
Trees: blue paloverde, citrus, desert willow, foothill paloverde, ironwood, kidneywood, mesquite.
Magical desert gardens can be entered in contest
Landscaping for wildlife is just one of the many ways to create magical gardens in Tucson.
To recognize the work of designers and property owners who have made innovative and appropriate use of native plants and local materials, Tohono Chul Park has created the Tohono Chul Park Landscape Awards competition.
The contest is open to both professional designers and amateur gardeners of the greater Sonoran Desert whose gardens fall within the following categories:
- Efficient water-use gardens
- Desert revegetation gardens/landscaping
- Landscaping for wildlife
- Small gardens (1,000 square feet or less)
- Budget gardens ($2,500 or less)
To be eligible, all plantings must contain at least 75 percent plants native to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. Gardens also must have been installed at least two years ago. They may be in a residential or commercial setting.
Applications may be obtained by calling Tohono Chul Park at 742-6455. Application forms and fees are due April 2. The entry fee for professionals is $40. The entry fee for non-professionals is $20, and entry fees must accompany all application forms.
For more information, call 742-6455 or see the park’s website www.tohonochulpark.org.
Winners will be announced in the Tucson Citizen.
- Russ Buhrow
PHOTOS: TRICIA McINROY/Tucson Citizen
A Cooper’s hawk (above) sits in a mesquite tree next to a saguaro cactus at Tohono Chul Park. The hawk likes to sit up high and look for birds and rodents to eat. A bunny (left) sits still behind a plant at the park. The missing piece of its ear was most likely the work of a predator.
The plant above, a Penstemon eatonii, attracts hummingbirds to the garden at Tohono Chul Park. At right, a cardinal perches on prickly pear at the park.
The running water (above) attracts animals at the park wanting a drink or a bath.
A group of doves perches on a dead paloverde branch at Tohono Chul Park.
A Gila woodpecker sits atop a saguaro cactus at Tohono Chul Park.