READERS' PICK: Rutger and Bernice Porter thought they were getting away from it all when they built their house way out on Alvernon in the 1930s and surrounded it with a little oasis of olive trees, pomegranate, monk's pepper and oleander. But development prevailed, and the Porter property is now smack in the middle of town. Fortunately, its five-and-a-half acres have fallen into the green-thumbed hands of the Tucson Botanical Gardens, and the place offers an Eden-like interlude during our cross-town commutes. It's grown into a dozen quite-different gardens--one devoted to wildflowers, another to irises, another to herbs, and on and on. The area called nuestro jardín is a comfortable reproduction of a typical barrio garden, complete with plants growing in Mexican coffee cans. A few yards away lurks the less-welcoming, yet still fascinating, garden of cactus and succulents. There's plenty more to enjoy here. Right now, the spots to linger in are the "historical gardens" (the Porters' original plantings), the low-water xeriscape garden, the aforementioned nuestro jardín, and the nectar-rich niches designed to lure birds and butterflies. The only (unofficial) restriction here is that you must visit at your leisure; you just can't rush serenity.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Tohono Chul Park, 7366 N. Paseo del Norte. You can find paradise smack dab in the middle of one of the Old Pueblo's most rapidly developing urban areas--the nightmarish northwest side. Next time you're stuck in a traffic jam and on the verge of screaming, "Calgon, carry me away!"--get out of that gridlock and escape to this tranquil 49-acre desert reserve nestled only a block away from Oracle and Ina roads. Calm those jangled nerves by wandering aimlessly along winding nature trails through glorious desert gardens filled with wonderful wildflowers and sensational succulents. It might even prompt you to pick up a plant at the greenhouse. Make a day of it--snack on a scone in the Tea Room, check out the gallery and browse T-Chul's two museum shops. With possibly the best selection of Southwestern souvenirs around, you'll find something for everyone. How about a hummingbird feeder for Aunt Agnes, or one of those Tommy the Tarantula coloring books for her little tyke? If your timing is right, you might also catch a concert under the stars.