Nursery Visit: Civano Nursery in Tucson, Arizona


After my drive-by of Civano’s candy-colored homes and front-yard gardens while in Tucson earlier this month, I popped into Civano Nursery for a look around. Yep, that’s right. The lucky residents of Civano have a full-service nursery in their neighborhood, within wagon-pulling distance of many of the homes.


The nursery is located at the entrance to the neighborhood, with views of rugged mountains over a wall that shields the grounds from highway road noise.


Colored walls are the perfect backdrop for desert plants like cactus and succulents.


Civano has such plants in abundance.


Agaves and cactus


More beautiful agaves


Palo verde, the ubiquitous native tree that was blooming all over Phoenix and Tucson while I was there.


Mexican fence post cactus


I’d have to grow this if I lived there.


Drought-tolerant perennials like guara are also offered.


Lots of reasons to plant them


Pocket gardens throughout the grounds are planted with desert-loving plants, like this ‘Sharkskin’ agave and ‘Sticks on Fire’ euphorbia.


I love when nurseries plant display gardens. They give you such great ideas for what might work in your own garden.


Red yucca, a Texas native


Here’s something you don’t see in central Texas: bundled ocotillo branches for sale


You can make them into fences that might even take root and grow.


Here’s one that screens a row of electrical panels.


Purple prickly pear against a pistachio-colored wall — such great color and texture


Colorful accessories seem to be vital in the desert, and Civano offers a nice selection of pottery.


Or maybe you’d prefer muted pottery if your wall is painted. I love this!


They also sell pre-planted containers…


…as well as southwestern-style garden art.


A large, covered patio offers space for garden speakers and their audiences.


A tree-size saguaro grows in a streetside display garden — symbol of the Arizona landscape.


If you garden in the desert, you’ve gotta create some shade. This expansive arbor is something to aspire to.


Or maybe you’d be lucky enough to have a shade tree. The nursery is family-friendly, with a play area and also several animal pens, shown here, which house goats, chickens, and even a tortoise.


Civano is a wonderful neighborhood nursery that shows how beautifully you can garden in the desert. I ran into the owner, Chris Shipley, whom I’d met at the Garden Writers Association conference two years ago. He was the one who gave me the Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri) that I packed home in my suitcase. How about that? I already have a Civano plant at home! (That is, if it survived our freezing winter; it’s still too soon to say.) Chris is a friendly, knowledgeable guy, and I enjoyed visiting his family-run nursery.

Up next: A series of posts about Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, where the Chihuly exhibit was on display

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Living colorfully in Civano, Tucson’s green-home community


I made a quick visit to Tucson while in Arizona earlier this month, and one of my stops included the green, master-planned community of Civano on the southeast side of town. One of my favorite garden authors, Scott Calhoun, wrote about building his home and garden there in Yard Full of Sun, and I’d visited his Civano-based landscape-design offices in October 2012. This time I wanted to see the neighborhood I’d read so much about, plus the local nursery (which I’ll post about soon).


I expected the neighborhood to be somewhat like the Mueller neighborhood in Austin: a mix of house styles set close to the street and to each other, with front porches for socializing with neighbors, sidewalks along every street, and community parks and businesses. In short, a New Urbanist neighborhood designed to bring neighbors together and reduce their dependence on cars by providing walkable amenities, and with energy- and water-conserving homes and gardens. I was not disappointed.


More than that, I was charmed.


Unlike a typical new subdivision, with houses all much alike in color (muted), size (big), and yard appearance (mandatory lawn and two trees), where you can hardly distinguish one house from the next, Civano’s homes are colorfully painted, relatively small, and set off by tiny front yards planted with desert-appropriate plants.


Low walls serve the same purpose as picket fences in other parts of the country: delineating public and private spaces while still presenting a friendly face to the neighborhood.


The house styles look at home in the desert, but their candy-colored stucco or woodwork functions like Steve Martino’s richly colored garden walls: it injects color into the muted palette of the desert and signals an attitude of playfulness and cheer.


Many homes, I noticed, have installed large, cylindrical cisterns to capture roof runoff.


Others have solar panels on the roof to take advantage of the desert sun.


Many of the homes have gardens out front, not merely landscaping.


It helps, I am sure, to have smaller lots and a nursery dedicated to desert plants right in the neighborhood.


Is this Tucson’s answer to Charleston’s Rainbow Row or San Francisco’s Painted Ladies?


This arched stucco gate reminds me of Santa Fe. I love the agaves in those geometrically patterned pots too.


Opuntia and terracotta stucco


There was lavender Opuntia too.


Purple walls! (Shout-out to desert gardener and designer David Cristiani)


Even the alleyways were as tempting as a jelly-bean jar with brightly colored garage doors.


Check out this massive saguaro, plus the one-of-a-kind wooden gate.


The wagon-wheel gate at this home caught my eye first, but then I noticed the gabion wall made of metal mesh and river rock.


Ocotillo in leaf and bloom


What a lovely neighborhood, and a perfect place to admire gardens on a morning stroll or drive-by!

Up next: A visit to Civano Nursery.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Desert retreat in Steve Martino-designed Quartz Mountain Garden


The second garden I visited with Phoenix landscape architect Steve Martino was familiar to me from a magazine or garden book I’d read. Peer recognition, including an ASLA design award in 2006, has also been bestowed on Steve’s design for this Paradise Valley, Arizona, home. It’s a high-end design, but it offers plenty of inspiration for any gardener.


Let’s start with sculptural native plants — ocotillo and prickly pear — against a fiery red wall. Color and form — simple but effective.


Steve worked with the homeowners to open their house to the outdoors, bringing in light and views but shielding the interior from harsh desert sunlight through the use of shade structures, arbors, and screening. This is the outer edge of a wall that helps enclose a dining terrace. A shelf fountain set into the wall masks road noise and adds the cooling sight of water to the dry garden.


Canary-yellow palo verde trees in full bloom over the red wall


A wider view reveals the pleasing visual heft of the patio roof, which surprisingly “floats” above the back wall, letting air and light pass through. A cut-out window in the wall frames a view of…


…columnar cactus. I love how the woven texture of the chairs repeats the ribbed texture of the cactus.


And, oh, that window! From the other side of the wall, along the driveway, it frames a mountain vista.


The covered dining terrace steps down to a large gravel patio casually furnished with Adirondacks…


…and an umbrella for shade.


But the fireplace wall and chairs clustered around it suggest that this space is mainly used in the evening, when the dry desert air can get chilly and a fire provides a cozy focal point.


The gravel patio gives way to a play lawn for the children. Reducing the lawn to the size needed for play is a good way to save water in a dry climate. And when the kids grow up, the lawn can be replaced by low-water plants or a larger patio.


Opuntia in flower


Panels of shade screening are covered by what I first thought was crossvine or some other orange-flowering vine. But a closer inspection revealed that it’s lantana — lantana climbing up to the roof! I asked Steve how he’d done it; I’ve never known lantana to climb like this. He said he didn’t know — it had just done it. I love garden surprises like this.


Looking across the play lawn toward the mountain view. This view was obscured by non-native trees before Steve transformed the garden. A taupe wall at the end of the play lawn…


…forms the back of a huge, L-shaped, blue-cushioned banquette banco near the swimming pool. A gas fire pit is set into the patio for evening warmth. But the stunner is of course that mountain view.


I’ve never been a fan of bougainvillea, which seems to shout with its insistent, lipstick-bright color. But, as with many tropical plants, it works well alongside a pool. Still, if it was mine (hey, I can fantasize!), I’d plant upright aloes or ‘Sticks on Fire’ euphorbia here.


A side view shows a negative-edge water feature just beyond the banquette banco.


The banco patio leads to a swimming pool framed by a cobalt-blue wall. A convex steel plate supports another shelf fountain, which spills into the pool. Aloes elevated on pedestals send up yellow bloom spikes.


The blue-tinged aloes echo the blue of the wall.


Patio dining. Blue cushions in the chairs continue the color theme of the pool garden.


Aloe vera blooming against the taupe wall of the house


This place is made for entertaining. Another seating area extends behind the pool, with cushy chairs overlooking a sport court below. Yellow-flowering palo verde colors the background.


Steps lead down to a sunken garden, a private space with a single banquette banco and geometric paving set in a small, emerald lawn. Another fire pit is ready for cool evenings. Sculpture and a sheltering palo verde tree add to the contemplative, restful atmosphere of this garden room.


The owner has placed a number of sculptural pieces throughout the garden, including this ballerina perched on a steel wall. She seems to be walking a balance beam.


On the other side of the house, the afternoon light illuminated this scene: palo verde, aloes, agave, and desert shrubs backed by a purple wall and a series of vertical steel plates that screen a side patio from view of the parking area.


A closer look


The side patio is humbler than the contemporary, newer spaces on the other side of the house. I like that the owners didn’t feel they had to tear out all the older parts of their home when they remodeled. Instead this cozy courtyard patio provides a garden entry to the home from the driveway.


I love this steel-pipe “picket fence.”


Aloe in bloom


Cool garden art


Another shelf fountain, set in a purple wall, is the focal point of the courtyard. Unfortunately it was not working during my visit.


In the adjacent parking area, a narrow planting bed is squeezed into the wall along the driveway, elevating a row of white-spined cactus that incandesce in the afternoon light.


Out by the street, a wall fountain splashing into a steel-edged rectangular pool announces the garden entry.


Shadows animate a translucent mesh panel at the end of the wall.


Along one side of the driveway, a low, red, serpentine wall wriggles toward the gate, with agaves and prickly pear providing a green counterpoint to that line of rich color.


The palo verdes were doing their best to outshine everything else on this early April visit.

My thanks to Steve and the homeowners for sharing this beautiful garden with me. For a look at the 1st garden I visited with Steve, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.