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.

40 Responses

  1. Cheryl says:

    Beautiful!Very nearly makes me want to move there!

  2. Shirley says:

    Wow! The personal touches make such a difference in this neighborhood. Communities with rules instituting boring colors and matching lawns should take note but I doubt they will.

    Loved seeing the plants in these settings, Opuntia gets so tall there. I liked it all, but the pale green house with matching garden is my favorite.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      A Facebook commenter who used to live in Civano — and who loved it — brought me back to earth a bit by saying that Civano has a strict HOA too. Which is probably why it looks so nice. —Pam

  3. Nice place. That lavender Opuntia is wonderful!

  4. Alison says:

    What a treat for the eyes this post was! So much color, so many different houses and gardens. No mass conformity there, and so very different from what I’m used to seeing. I adore that cistern.

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I love all of this fabulous color. It makes the homes look unique and so cheerful.

  6. Nice shots Pam! Two of these are shots are gardens I designed.

  7. Lori says:

    Holy crap, I love it! There’s so much individuality, and such a sense of place!

  8. “As tempting as a jelly bean jar” indeed. You do have a gift for seeing and describing the most wonderful things.

  9. Beautiful. Seems next time we’re driving west, we need to take some time in Tucson. Such pretty places.

  10. TexasDeb says:

    *Sigh* You wouldn’t think you’d develop a crush on a neighborhood but I don’t know many other ways to adequately describe my infatuation with the homes and outdoor spaces in these images. The colors – the smart use of xeriscape natives – the blend of stucco and wood accents – the winsome looking rain tower – I like it all. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful homes. Absolutely inspirational!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I get it. I was such a stalker in this neighborhood, driving the streets over and over to get pictures of all the cute houses and gardens. —Pam

  11. Laura says:

    Loving that neighborhood. I don’t think I appreciated desert gardening enough until I left Phoenix. It really is beautiful, and the colored stucco just makes everything pop.

  12. peter schaar says:

    Another beautiful tour, Pam. Thanks so much. I’m totally envious. Dallas has nothing even remotely similar to Civano.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I think this is the wave of the future in drought-prone areas, don’t you? I bet Dallas develops some green-living, New Urbanist communities soon. —Pam

  13. Tina says:

    So beautiful and such a celebration of place. The beautiful walls and gates are similar to those in Santa Fe–lots of stucco and color and unique artwork. Glad you posted this–makes me want to visit!

  14. Jenny says:

    They have some outstanding garden designers in Tucson. Lots of bold color and bold plants. I am noticing that it is much easier to film int he sun in Arizona than it is in my garden.

  15. mamaholt says:

    Woah. I LOVE this too. My brother lives in Tucson. I’m gonna take a tour next time we go visit. I wanna live in a planned community. Well, I guess I kind of do. Brentwood is such a gem here in Austin. Wish I could totally ditch the car, though.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Mamaholt, I’d love to live in a community-based neighborhood like this too — BUT it does have a strict HOA, according to a former resident who commented on my FB page today. That might drive a free spirit such as yourself a bit nuts. It probably would me too. —Pam

  16. Oh Pam this was just wonderful, thank you! The next time we’re in Tucson (can’t come soon enough) I will have to visit and walk these streets for myself. Looking forward to the nursery post and realizing how desert deprived I am feeling!

  17. It is brutal living in the desert – the summer heat, the wind, the scorpions, the colors, the architectural plants with negative space. :-) Purple walls do make me smile, but the lime-green garage door might even top that. Trying to think of a negative, having to repaint with what this sun does to colors after 2 years… Figured SC had his hand in some of those!

    Please stop this posting of great places in AZ, and show some blah…am feeling the urge to move west…

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I didn’t see any blah, David. Sorry! Stay tuned for Desert Botanical Garden pics and a Christine Ten Eyck-designed demonstration garden. —Pam

  18. Sylvia says:

    Pam, One thing about Civano is that “free-spirits” will find that for the most part, their spirit is completely in sync with the HOA. The Civano project was developed in part by the many of original residents. Living there for 8 years there were very few situations where my sense of what my home should be was out of sync with the HOA. They CC&R are very detailed, and are thoughtful for the most part. Rules that I loved, having lots of allergies, most know allergen planting were off limits. How many other places automatically try to create a living atmosphere with that kind of attention to detail.

    For all here who would like to visit, just know that there are more than a few B&Bs in the neighborhood. Scott Calhoun and his wife own one of them, Zona is it’s name, there are B&Bs and there are guest casitas, available to rent for short and long term stays. The neighborhood is very active with events and there is a lovely coffee shop, a gym, the Civano Nursery which is a nice place to visit it and of itself, a gift shop, and lots of other businesses that are run from homes. If anyone wants to visit they can go to Civano and get access to places to rent, businesses, etc and can find themselves easily blending in and being a part of the gentle desert life even if they are only there a night or two. Be fore warned though that the very end of January through the first week or two of February is when the Gem and Jewelry Trade descends upon Tucson for roughly 40 Gem and Mineral Trade Shows, space is harder to find and at a premium, though Gem Show is an awesome Tucson event anyone can access , at least in part.
    Loved your sharing of Civano. I miss the place and the people very much. Civano will stay in your heart if it is ever a part of your life.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective as a former resident, Sylvia! It really is a delightful neighborhood. It would be wonderful to stay there at a B&B or guest casita sometime; I’m glad you pointed out that option. —Pam

  19. Whoa! Lovely post, gorgeous photos. It’s so inspiring to see a well done eco community. I love Tucson, because it’s so unapologetically Southwestern, whereas Phoenix always seems to be trying to be something else. Maybe it’s time for me to move South…

    • Pam/Digging says:

      What is Phoenix trying to be, Larissa? Mediterranean? I did see a lot of palms there — ha! But I also saw much native beauty. Did you see my posts about Steve Martino’s gardens? His Phoenix gardens are very native-plant focused and embracing of the desert. —Pam