Over two centuries ago, the original mission garden was in this same spot at the base of ‘A’ mountain. Thanks to some volunteer preservationists, today’s inhabitants have the opportunity to literally take a walk backward through time and get a very good idea of what growing plants was like.
Established in 1770, the original garden helped feed the residents. The strong adobe walls protected the plants from wildlife and livestock that may have wanted to partake.
Some of the plants were introduced by the Spanish. Outside the walls grew wheat and corn. How those crops were protected is not clear. This was a time when mission and native housing was prevalent. Mesquite and cottonwood trees lined the nearby riverbanks. Looking at the space today, there is no evidence of any water other than the ever dry wash trails that run throughout Tucson.
The original garden was approximately four acres in size as estimated by archaeologists. Today’s garden is slightly smaller to accommodate the city that has grown up around the area.
The eastern portion of the garden resembles the Spanish-Colonial era garden of northern Mexico. The west side contains a timeline of gardens which go back 4000 years of farming and gardening.
The garden was located here because the Santa Cruz River flowed year around. During the Spanish period, irrigation ditches called acequias allowed water to flow through and keep the garden going. Prior to that method of irrigation were the O’odham canals. And even further back in time, the Hohokam canals provided water to the area. It seems the ancestors always knew what they were doing.
A 1697 journal entry of Juan Mateo Manje, a military escort to Father Eusebio Kino notes: ‘Here the river runs a full flow of water, though the horses forded it without difficulty. There are good pasture and agricultural lands with a canal for irrigation. The Indians harvest corn, beans, and cotton from which they make cloth to dress themselves. Squash, melons and watermelons were also raised.”
From that entry, we can imagine what it must have been like for mission residents to spend so many hours toiling to grow food and the great reward they must have felt at breaking open a cool, fresh melon at the close of summer and tasting that sweetness that comes from their land.
The garden is located at the base of ‘A’ mountain. It is most easily accessed from the downtown area via Congress Street. For more information, check out their website at www.tucsonorigins.com.