So many of the historic places in Tucson have been reduced to rubble. One has to stand at a spot and put the pieces back together in the mind’s eye.
Now, you can get a very realistic idea of what the first enclosed garden may have looked like. Better yet, standing within the walls, you begin to feel what it must have been like to live here during this time.
According to the interpretive brochure and map, the Mission Garden is a reconstruction of the Spanish Colonial walled garden that was once part of the mission. Rebuilt on the original site, this garden features heirloom plants and living Timeline Gardens.
Believed to have originally been built some time in the early 1800s, an 1843 report about the property by government official Joaquín Quiroga described the garden, by then in disrepair:
‘The mission has two gardens of recreation, one up against the residence, a
third part of its wall has fallen down, the other garden is large with many
fruit trees, house, and pathways, the wall and house are fallen, and its
trees now barren. A granary of 25 varas by 2 varas to store seeds is near
ruin and the door dilapidated.’
In 2003, excavations unveiled the floor of a structure along the east wall of the garden, 17 meters long by eight meters wide, that had four interior column bases. It is unclear if this is the structure that Quiroga mentions.
Staying as true to what has been found archaeologically, a ramada has been built and a small enclosure that could have housed someone is also on the site. The scale seems very small by our standards yet when you think back to the people who were here, it must have seemed like an enormous space to live in to them.
There is an 1862 U.S. military map that features the walled mission garden. The map was ordered by Major David Fergusson to identify and confiscate property held by those who sympathized with with Confederate effort.
The first photographic evidence of the garden is a Carleton Watkins image which was taken in April 1880. Further photos document the meltdown of the structure and the demise of the garden.
The original stone foundation of the massive adobe wall that surrounded the garden has been uncovered and carefully reburied. The current wall is approximately eight feet out from the original.
There are plans in place to uncover a portion of the original wall and protect it for viewing.
The original wall was approximately six to eight feet tall and two feet thick. Many artifacts were found at the site such as Mexican majolica pottery, animal bones, Native American potsherds, arrow points, stone hoes and English pottery fragments.
The gardens feature heirloom plants. In a partnership with the Desert Museum, volunteers planted and are tending these beautiful pieces of the past. You can walk through the garden and see a fig or a pomegranate planting that is descended from the plants that would have grown here during the time of the founding of Tucson.
The next part of the restoration will be the visita or the church building. Watch for further articles about the progress of that effort.
To get to the gardens from downtown Tucson, head towards the I-10 on Congress past Avenida del Convento. Take a left at Grande (be careful, there wasn’t a street sign up) and weave through the round about. The enclosure is at Grande and Mission. The signage isn’t very good yet so you may have to meander a bit go get there.
The gardens are open for tours on Saturday mornings from 8 to noon. Call 591-0478 or email email@example.com to request further information.