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Best Public Urban Gardens

Tucson Botanical Gardens
2150 N. Alvernon Way

READERS' AND STAFF PICK: Nestled amid of sea of shopping malls, suicide lanes and city bustle is an island of botanical sanity--the Tucson Botanical Gardens. A stroll through TBG will bring you under the protective boughs of giant mesquite trees and envelope you in the smell of blossoming sage. Spend your lunch hour in the picnic area and feast your senses while you feed your stomach. Look for wild birds in the Backyard Bird Garden, or cull tips on creating your own botanical heaven in the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden. Staff and literature at the gardens provide advice on how to duplicate their lush environs without squandering acre-feet of water. If your stroll really spawns a green thumb, come to the biannual plant sale October 5 and 6 and take the first step in creating your own urban oasis.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Tohono Chul Park is a desert Garden of Eden, a 37-acre oasis located just five minutes from the Tucson Mall at 7366 N. Paseo del Norte. Whether you pick up one of the maps for a self-guided tour, bring a box lunch and picnic after a walk along the trails, or tow the kids to visit the Garden for Children, your senses will be delighted at every turn. The park was once the estate and winter residence of a family from back East. As civilization encroached, they realized the value of keeping their natural desert habitat untouched by developers of apartment complexes, mini malls and quickie lubes. The result of their sensitive determination is this non-profit, public haven dedicated to education and appreciation for desert dwellers--native, transplanted and vacationing. The park is a living museum of desert flora and fauna with living, growing, and ever-changing exhibits. There's an exhibit house, demonstration garden, greenhouse, ethnobotanical garden, gift shop, tea room, performance garden, and facilities for special events. Tohono Chul Park is a must if you are entertaining out-of-town visitors.

A PERFECT 10: Originally a mansion built in the 1920s for an heiress to the Pond's cosmetics fortune, El Dorado Office Complex (6400 E. El Dorado Circle), among other things, now houses Charles' Restaurant. Tucked away off Wilmot Road next to El Dorado Hospital, this easily overlooked oasis is a masterpiece. The gardens, made up of carefully trimmed shrubbery and modest lawns between tall shade trees, seem more at home in Tuscany than in Tucson; and the building they surround is one of the city's lesser-known architectural treasures.

Case History

1998 Winner: Tucson Botanical Gardens
1997 Winner: Tucson Botanical Gardens
1995 Winner: Tucson Botanical Gardens

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