Mother Earth Living

Water-Wise Oasis: A Tucson Desert Garden

Scant rainwater sustains a lush garden in urban Tucson.

An adobe oven is framed by low-water-use native vegetation.
Brad picks a fresh, tasty salad grown entirely with harvested rainwater.
Photos by Nigel Valdez
Brad’s neighbor Christine and her daughter, Jasmine, walk along a footpath in the public right-of-way adjoining the property. This area used to be devoid of all vegetation and drained rainwater and topsoil to the street. Now, sunken, mulched basins next to the raised path harvest rainfall and grow abundant native vegetation that makes attractive habitat for songbirds.
Brad harvests sun as well as water: Eight solar panels provide all the home’s electricity, two batch-style hot water heaters provide the hot water, a solar oven keeps cooking heat outside in the summer, and south-facing windows create passive solar heating and light in winter.
Brad’s winter garden is located within sunken, mulched, water-harvesting basins. Brad’s property is home to more than a dozen varieties of edible cacti, from which he harvests fruit, flower buds, and pads. This diversity of low-water-use cacti provides food throughout the year and delights with diverse flavors including some similar to papaya, honeydew melons, artichoke hearts, and strawberries.
A bee alights on one of the garden’s many sunflowers. Bees increase the garden’s production with their polination services and provide Brad and Rodd with organic honey and wax.
East- and west-facing exterior sun screens help cool Brad and Rodd’s home and enable them to live without water- and electricity-consuming evaporative coolers or air conditioners. Below: A chalkboard posts the bounty of Brad’s rainwater harvest.
The cool season garden is planted within sunken mulched basins. Brad and Rodd harvest a large salad bowl of greens and veggies a day, grown entirely from rain harvested in the soil and from the 1,200 gallon pre-cast concrete tank that harvests water from half of their metal roof.
Queen’s Wreath vine (Antigonon leptopus) is a winter deciduous vine that provides Brad with summer shade and cooling, while letting the full sun in his south-facing windows in winter for passive heating and light. The flowers are beautiful and attract many beneficial pollinators, including honeybees.
Brad, right, and his brother, Rodd, harvest 15 to 20 percent of their food from their rainwater-nourished garden.
Brad harvests over 100,000 gallons of rainwater a year on a 1/8-acre urban lot and adjoining right-of-way.
Brad picks a fresh, tasty salad grown entirely with harvested rainwater.

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