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Southern Arizona gardening enthusiasts find opportunities for friendships to bloom

Tucson Organic Gardeners

Gardening can often be a solitary activity. Even if there are people around, gardeners can zone out as they go about the earthly chores of digging, planting, weeding, watering and picking.

Passionate Southern Arizona gardeners can find like-minded folks to socialize with at about a dozen general and special interest clubs.

Add to that botanical gardens and educational organizations and gardeners have plenty of opportunity to meet, learn from and make friends with other gardeners.

Four Tucsonans share what they get out of being among fellow plant nerds.


Artist Joy Holdread has recently enthusiastically embraced organic gardening and water harvesting. That’s why she joined Tucson Organic Gardeners about three or four years ago.

“I had lots of questions,” says Holdread. “I wanted camaraderie. I wanted to talk to someone who was interested in compost.”

She often attends the monthly meetings, which include time to share gardening tips and ideas.

“Gardeners are the most resourceful people you’ll ever meet,” Holdread says. “You can get seven, eight different solutions to one problem.”

She’s made friends with a young woman who occasionally helps out in the yard. She’s been invited to spend time in other people’s gardens.

“I feel close to some of these people (in the club) and like them a lot in the context of sustainable things,” she says.


It’s been 10 years since Gene Murphy retired from his landscaping business. Thanks to the Tucson Cactus & Succulent Society, he still keeps up with his craft.

As a 20-year TCSS member, Murphy has spent a lot of time helping out with cactus rescues, providing stock for sales and getting to know the professionals in the industry.

One of his early clients turned out to be a society member, too, and they became best friends partly through society activities, he says.

Today, he loves attending the monthly events. “We have very well-known speakers and they have some very excellent slide shows,” says Murphy, whose own garden is packed with cacti. “Speakers have been from all over the world.”

As Murphy gets older–he turned 79 a few days ago–he relies on the society and a few other interests to stay engaged.

If you don’t keep yourself interested in some things,” he says, “the next thing you know, you don’t care about anything.”


When Hank Verbais retired from the Federal Aviation Administration, he already knew he wanted to be a docent of some Tucson organization.

“I wanted to learn more stuff,” says Verbais. “I have really been interested in outdoor suff.”

He became a docent with Tohono Chul Park in 2015 following a 16-week training that included natural history, local history, ethnobotany and geology.

That drive for education also led him to become a master gardener at about the same time. “The real draw for me was the opportunity to learn more than what I already knew,” he says.

As a master gardener, Verbais is a certified gardening educator. He helps maintain the demonstration gardens at the Pima County Cooperative Extension and fields questions from the public.

His duties at Tohono Chul Park include leading tours. Some of them are generally about the park. Others focus on wildflowers or butterflies.

“I love talking with people,” Verbais says. “That’s the payback for me: Being able to share and see people become excited about what we have here.”


Marian Ecker and her husband used to haul her rose plants between Tucson and Michigan when they were snowbirds for five years.

Now full-time residents for three years, the couple’s 30 rose bushes are a neighborhood attraction.

And Ecker says it’s thanks to her membership with the Rose Society of Tucson.

The society often holds mock rose shows, a way for members to learn what makes an outstanding specimen for the real show.

After three years of attending meetings, Ecker recently entered a few roses in the mock competition. She got some awards and lots of encouragement.

“They’re really nice people,” Ecker says, “and they’re very welcoming.”

She’s used the ideas she’s received from the rose society, as well as from membership in the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society, the Facebook group Tucson Backyard Gardeners and her neighborhood gardening group.

“I’ve learned tremendous amounts from those groups,” she says. “My garden would not look this good.”


Local clubs have websites or Facebook accounts where gardeners can find information about meetings, tours and special events.

Below is a list of some events on the gardening calendar. Also check out activities by Green Valley Gardeners and Tucson Bonsai Society.


10—Tucson Botanical Gardens docent training application due.


11—Watershed Management Group’s Edible Shade.


3–African Violet Society Show and 60th anniversary celebration.

3-4 Tucson Garden Railway Society Rails in the Garden tour.

3-4 Tucson Orchid Society Fiesta de las Flores show and sale.

17 Tucson Organic Gardeners Spring Fair.

17-18 Tohono Chul Park Spring Plant Sale.


TBA Tucson Area Iris Society Show.

6 Master Gardeners training applications due.

7 Master Gardeners Spring Plant Sale.

14 Master Gardeners Home Garden Tour.

14 Rose Society of Tucson Rose Show.

14 Tucson Botanical Gardens 2018 Ultimate Home & Garden Tour.

28-29 Tucson Cactus & Succulent Society’s Sonoran Conference.


27-28 Tohono Chul Park Monsoon Sale.


TBA Tohono Chul Park’s prospective docent meeting.

TBA Tucson Area Iris Society iris sale.

1 Bisbee Bloomers Garden Tour.

13 Arizona Native Plant Society meeting season starts and runs through May.


TBA Watershed Management Group’s Homescape Harvest Tour.

TBA Tucson Organic Gardeners Fall Fair.

TBA Tucson Garden Club meeting season starts and runs through May.

8 Master Gardeners Fall Plant Sale.

13-14 Tohono Chul Park Fall Plant Sale.

27 Master Gardener program’s 35th anniversary celebration.