READERS' PICK: Locally owned Mesquite Valley Growers has been a favorite among Tucsonans for several years. A lush and shady oasis on the far east side, Mesquite Valley boasts a botanical cornucopia of landscaping plants, with a seemingly endless selection of annuals, perennials, shade trees, roses of all humors and habits, indigenous shrubs and trees, cacti and succulents, herbs and edibles, and even reed and rush for your water garden. The grounds are lovely enough to charge admission (but they don't). Most of the plants are displayed in long rows on low wooden benches, large trees spread shade over the less hardy charges, and charming wooden signs direct you to your fancy. A family of black and white cats warmly greets visitors in the doorway of the small shop, which houses seeds, supplies and garden knickknacks. Whether you're looking for a leatherleaf Acacia tree, 12 pots of purple agapanthus or an ornamental lawn ball, Mesquite Valley Grower's vigilant staff is on hand for expert advice and guidance.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Harlow's Nursery, 5620 E. Pima St.
MORE MANIA: Desert Survivors, 1020 W. Starr Pass Blvd. When they say "survivors," they mean it. First, this absolutely essential nursery stocks more than 300 species of trees, shrubs, ground cover, herbs and wildflowers fit to thrive in our cruel climate. Second, a customer reports that when a plant she bought there actually died -- she was negligent, she admits -- the nursery replaced it. Failure is not an option. Third, the non-profit organization employs dozens of developmentally disabled adults who tend plants, repot, work on maintenance crews and generally learn to hold their own in the wide world, which can be as inhospitable to them as the Sonoran Desert is to strawberries. Whether you're looking for a little close-to-the-ground color from an Oenothera berlandieri, or you want some serious shade from a mighty mesquite, you'll find it here. The nursery's plants, like its people, are more durable than you might think.