Armory Park: Time for a Community Garden

If you have ever attended the Armory Park Home Tour, you know that it’s a chance to explore our neighborhood’s most colorful treasures.  The annual fund raising event highlights the thoughtful preservation and renovation of historic homes alongside the contextual architecture of newer homes, many of which boast green amenities such as solar power and water harvesting.  And if you walk or ride your bike through the Tour, you get to enjoy some local whimsy along the way, the small details and expressions of neighborhood character that I like to consider the Home Tour “sideshow”: street art, murals, creative landscaping, quirky paint jobs, and yard signs promoting everything from humanitarian and political causes to modern cottage industries.

Armory Park is a true historic neighborhood, distinguished by buildings and streetscapes that confirm the continuity of the past – when the Armory was an armory, and building materials were scarce – with the present and future.  Those of us who seek out a place like Armory Park to live, whether we own or rent our homes, are inspired to preserve and build on what we already have: a neighborhood that is at once lively and peaceful, walkable and livable.  One Sunday afternoon each fall, the Home Tour offers a chance to slow down, meet one another and take a deeper look at our surroundings.

For those with an eye for gardening and plants, a Home Tour in Armory Park often reveals some really lovely yards and gardens, where we imagine people spending their time relaxing or playing.  Some of the urban oases in Armory Park have taken decades to mature.  Some happened by accident.  Many are inherited, as remnants of the original gardens on historic properties that date back to before we were born.

Aside from weeds and the occasional pest, what’s not to love about gardening?  People who keep gardens from year to year generally do so because it’s enjoyable and satisfying.  Manicured and pristine, wild and unruly – no matter what “style” of gardening we choose (or surrender to), gardens reflect the outdoor dimension of our domestic lives.  We might stick to growing our old standbys, the favorites, the plants that remind us of someone, someplace or some time ago.  Or we might commit to growing arid-adapted and native plants.  But gardening can also involve risks, when we plant new varieties and experiment with light and soil.

A private garden can be nourishing for all these reasons.  It’s also the most appropriate place to grow food, especially if it’s truly private (lest someone walk away with our recyclables and a handful of fresh tomatoes!).  I queried the neighborhood email listserv to find out who’s growing food, and what they are growing.  As you would expect, Armory Park boasts a wealth of experience and local food-growing knowledge, right here in our back yards:

I’m still experimenting, but right now I have 4 heritage fruit trees, which withstood the freeze outstandingly: 2 pomegranate, 1 lima, 1 fig. I also have a limon, which froze all the way to the ground, but will survive as a new bush. I have herbs and chiles both in the ground and in pots.

In the past I have grown a variety of seeds from Native Seeds in the ground, including teparies, limas, cherry tomatoes. I have also grown a couple of European tomato plants and some squashes I got from Kim Fox.  I’m moving more toward herbs and chiles since it seems I get more return/impact for my time.

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Years ago I planted a lot of fruit trees. I have figs, pomegranates, oranges, grapefruit, lemons & pecans. As to vegetables, they tend to vary from year to year. Lately I’ve been growing Swiss chard, carrots & lettuce in the winter. (This year I tried potatoes for the first time.) In the spring I have tomatoes, basil, peppers & sometimes corn. Year round there is mint, lemon balm, rosemary and garlic chives. Other vegetables come and go on a whim.

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I have a citrus tree (grapefruit and lemons), a peach tree and a fig tree, all of which produce some fruit, especially the grapefruit. This year in our garden we have had artichokes, chard, cilantro, 1 cucumber, some beans, 1 very puny corn, a few Serrano peppers and lots of tomatoes and zucchini, which are still coming.  I think I also have some blossoming watermelon plants, but, to date, no fruit has been sighted. We also have nopalitos, although often others harvest them.

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I’ve been gardening for over 40 years. In the last 16 here in Tucson, I’ve concentrated mostly on winter gardening in small plots: from greens to carrots to onions & garlic to herbs. I’ve also got some container gardens: tomatoes & peppers (summer), herbs (year-round), greens (winter; the sorrel went crazy this year, a first in Tucson). That was probably because the soil was rich, harder to accomplish in the plots without removing all of the soil every 2-3 years (I do replenish it but it’s not enough).

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I always grow basil (large pots) and sunflowers (raised wattle bed) in the summer– and try tomatoes but with almost no success. Winter: arugula, parsley, cilantro, all lettuces, kale and chard. The arugula (one of my favorite foods) seeds itself now. Very large pots and raised beds. Flowers: calendula and daisies and oriental poppies.

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Winter garden (October-April): All kinds of winter greens like arugula, chard, kale, parsley, lettuces

Summer garden (~March-November): Tomatos, chilis of all sorts, basil

All the time: lemongrass, lemons, bitter oranges

Wouldn’t you agree it’s time for an Armory Park Garden Tour?  Better yet, why not bring all the gardeners and would-be gardeners together in one place, where they can share ideas and build community?  After all, not everyone has the space, time, or courage to start up their own gardens at home.

For years, neighbors have talked about establishing a community garden in Armory Park.  We’ve had a handful of informal “community” gardens spring up here and there, mostly on multi-home (apartment) properties.  But without the security of a lease, the continuity of a garden coordinator, and the combined resources and expertise of an organized group of garden advocates, it has been impossible to sustain a true community garden.

Now, thanks to a small start-up grant from PRO Neighborhoods, we are poised to fulfill the dream of a community garden in Armory Park.

What we’ve accomplished
Informal neighborhood and APNA Board meeting discussions over the past couple years led to the formation of the “Green Team.”  The team, which reviewed planning resources for community gardens, applied for a PRO Neighborhoods grant, and set up an online working group.  We completed an inventory of vacant lots in the neighborhood, and now that we received a start-up grant, we are moving ahead to the site selection phase.

The work ahead
Site selection will require a lot of communication and planning, so we welcome input and extra help from neighbors (especially if you’ve got a particular lot or property owner in mind).  Over the next few of months, we will contact property owners, research local health regulations, draft lease agreements, purchase liability insurance, and solicit financial and in-kind donations. (Want to make a donation to the garden?  You can donate online via Network for Good.)

The first neighborhood visioning meeting will be held  in October. If you are interested in receiving an email about this first meeting–and are not on the Armory Park Yahoo Group list,  send an email to info [at] armoryparktucson.org and we’ll add you to the Community Garden email list.

We live in a climate where we can grow all year long . . . so why not throw out some seeds, add a little water, and see what comes up?

Author: Ken Taylor

I am a relatively recent Armory Park resident (2/16) along with my wife, Donna and our little dog Lulu. Donna and I lived over 30 years in Anchorage, Alaska before moving to Arizona. We have been Arizona residents for 16 years before coming here including 12 in Green Valley and four in west Tucson. We love the neighborhood for its history, walkability and interesting residents. Lulu insists on walking every day so you may see us following her around and picking up trash to keep our neighborhood presentable.

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