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What's HOT for your desert yard

Boxhill brings us its product picks of the month.


The Desert Collection by Steel Life was born from the desire to create a perfect planter for cacti, succulents and other drought-tolerant plants.  The shape of the bowls eliminate the need for excessive soil and unnecessary water usage that is typical with deeper containers.  The designs also reduce the chance of over-watering your plants and having their roots rot in the process.

The planters are manufactured in the Pacific Northwest and assembled in Central Oregon.  Each bowl is individually spun by one set of hands and with the use of machinery that dates back to the early 1900's. The mod dish (lower right in photo) is partially made from locally salvaged and upcycled steel.

But, more than that, we love the simple mid-century style of these. One or two will bring a pop of color and some mid-century functionality to your yard or home. For more, visit Boxhill's online store.

* For a chance to win one of these planters, visit our Mid-Mod Giveaway here!


Olive Grove with Seating Located within the Upper Plaza North of the TCC (Photo Credit:  Red

Olive Grove with Seating Located within the upper plaza north of the Tucson Convention Center.
Photo courtesy of Red Bark Design LLC

Every month, landscape designer Darbi Davis digs deep to bring you stories for your outdoor space. Here, she reveals some mid-century landscaping treasures in the heart of Tucson's downtown.

Darbi Davis. Photo by

Darbi Davis. Photo by Jen Long Photography

As Tucson's mid mod fans gather for the second annual Modernism Week, they might want to take a little stroll downtown. There, spanning over five acres, lays a mid-century surprise: a rare and exquisite example of classic mid-century landscape design known as the Tucson Community Center Landscape.

The space, located south of Broadway, connects several new and old structures around the Tucson Convention Center. It is the work of Garrett Eckbo, a founding father of classic mid-century landscape design.

Garrett Eckbo and James Rose. Photo courtesy of Arline Eckbo

Garrett Eckbo (left) and James Rose. Photo courtesy of Arline Eckbo

The age of Modernism as it defines Landscape Design was a decade where science and technology reigned, mass-produced materials ruled, and America was seeking an identity within a Modern world laced with radical art, architecture, literature and theory. Thanks to Garrett Eckbo, James Rose, and Dan Kiley, the Classic Modernist Landscape was born.

The Walkway Linear Fountain Links the main Plaza to the Pedestrian Bridge, La Placita Village, and Government Buildings (Photo Credit:  Red Bark Design, LLC)

The walkway linear fountain links the main plaza to the pedestrian bridge, La Placita Village, and Government buildings. Photo courtesy of Red Bark Design LLC

These irreverent lads all went to Harvard Graduate School of Design. Most graduated. One was expelled. Literature was their primary weapon against the system, and writings with headings such as “How to Prevent a Garden,” and “Landscapes for Living” surfaced.

Who knew landscapes and gardens were not for living prior to Modernism? Indeed, they were reserved for the elite and rarely, if ever, considered the social lives of humans.

Here's what we love about them:

 1. The Space The landscape was sculpted as a form of social art, and designed to serve as a gathering place for the people. General design characteristics of modern landscapes include a tight connection between indoors and out, ecological elegance, spatial sensibility, authentic materials - and, most importantly, people. Yes, these spaces were designed for you.

2. The Materials Materials were the finished product. Can you imagine the delight in not having to choose a paint color with your partner? Well that’s the reality of a mid-century design - no need to paint or stucco that wall, the concrete is the finish. Simply genius.

Looking at the Upper Plaza between the TCC and the Leo Rich Theater (Photo Credit:  Red Bark Design, LLC)

Looking at the upper plaza between the TCC and the Leo Rich Theater.
Photo courtesy of Red Bark Design LLC

3. The Plants The vegetation consisted of drought-tolerant choices, and was placed in groves or allees to provide shade and respite from our hot climate. Sound familiar? These guys were xeriscaping way before their time.

Fountain Plaza - View 2 - Looking North (Photo Credit:  TPAC)

Fountain Plaza - View 2 - Looking North
Photo courtesy of TPAC

4. The Fountains There were fountains and boulders, and for Tucsonans whose summer season lasts a full six months and into triple digits, that's a lot to love.

5. The Buildings All of the buildings surrounding this space had cultural significance (then and now), bringing together the Convention Center,  theater, hotel, and adjacent open spaces.

So the next time you find yourself at Cinema La Placita, the Leo Rich Theater, or on jury duty, take a walk through this historical landscape, wander through the spaces, and recall that you are walking among a rare bit of history.

* For more mid century Tucson spaces, don't miss the Tucson Modernism Week Home Tour on October 6th. For the first time, TMW is collaborating with Architecture Week for a tour that combines historic and contemporary. Details and tickets here.

For more on Darbi, visit her website,

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Guerrilla Grafters. Photo by?

Photo courtesy of Guerrilla Grafters

In the first of a new monthly column, landscape designer Darbi Davis digs deep to bring you stories for your outdoor space. This month: the lawbreakers they call guerrilla grafters. Plus, Boxhill's product of the month.


Darbi Davis. Photo by Jen Long Photography

When urban sidewalks lined with sterile trees suddenly start dropping fruit, people eat and communities come together, thanks to an illegal movement that is establishing itself nationwide in the U.S.

We’ve all heard of guerrilla gardening – turning derelict, barren land into community gardens. The underlying motivation for guerrilla grafting is similar, except one group beautifies neglected space, and the other fills the void.

By grafting fruit-bearing branches onto sterile trees, guerrilla grafters provide a modern – yet illegal – solution to resolving food insecurity among populations living in a “food desert.”

That was the case with Tara Hui, founder of San Francisco-based Guerrilla Grafters. “We really didn’t have any fresh produce. The area I lived in was considered a food desert, but it had a lot of sidewalks,” she says.

The purpose of the grafters, according to Tara, is “not so much to antagonize but to bolster a sense of ownership within the community.” They do not haphazardly graft guerrilla style, and each grafted tree has an “adoptive parent” who monitors the progress of the graft and overall health of the tree as it morphs into abundance.


Photo courtesy of Guerrilla Grafters

Speaking at a gathering in Tucson last month hosted by Slow Food Southern Arizona, Tara stressed the social implications of her grafting work. The newly grafted tree ultimately “creates a sense of camaraderie and relationship with neighbors and a trusting relationship with the space and people around you," she says. They only graft in spaces accessible to the public at all times.

Grafting season is late winter or early spring, when the trees are just beginning to wake up. The Guerrilla Grafters encourage activists to set up guerrilla grafting groups in their own geographical regions and take ownership of their trees.
Some of their greatest volunteer support comes from computer hackers – familiar with a similar form of quick, stealthy work – and artists who view the acts much like a gardening form of graffiti.

Opposition comes from city municipalities, where codes restrict the use of fruit-bearing trees in public rights of way for reasons of safety (someone might slip on the sidewalk from rotting fruit) or nuisance (rats will invade).


Photo courtesy of Guerrilla Grafters

One of the main hurdles the grafters face is vandalism, particularly in their hometown of San Francisco. "We say vandals although we suspect some sort of authority or agency, but we can't prove it. The targeting and skill of pruning were so severe and in a fairly wide area that we don't think it's just random people doing it [the vandalism],” says Tara. “In one case in San Francisco, an entire street of trees had their grafted branches pruned back so much that some have died as a result,” she says.


Photo courtesy of Guerrilla Grafters

For this reason the grafters must be secretive about their work and only release photos or films not depicting street signs or other identifying landmarks. Recently, they abandoned the use of color-coded electrical tape, and reverted back to grafting tape in an attempt to avoid drawing attention to the tree.

So, could guerrilla grafting happen in Tucson? Tucson has its share of non-native, non-fruit bearing trees, such as the Swan Hill Olive (fruiting variety banned due it’s allergenic properties). But, surprisingly, we lack guerrilla grafting advocates.

The reality is that our hot, dry, desert has more than 500 food-producing native plants according to Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert by Wendy C. Hodgson. That number, coupled with our outstanding local organizations who promote native, food-producing plants and their fruits - Native Seeds Search and Desert Harvesters to name two - possibly explains why we don’t have so many vigilante propagators.

The harsh microclimates surrounding our public spaces, coupled with our epic water shortage, would most definitely have an impact on the survivability of non-native, food-producing plants grafted in place along our sidewalks. In fact some would say Tucson is the antithesis of a food desert. Organizations like the Iskashitaa Refugee Network harvest more than 75,000 pounds of edible food each year, from public and private lands scattered throughout our lower desert that would otherwise be wasted. Barbara Eiswerth, the organization’s executive director, believes that this is “only the tip of the iceberg in terms of harvesting edibles in the lower desert.”


Photo courtesy of Guerrilla Grafters

So rather than guerrilla grafting, Tucson is more about guerrilla foraging. Laura Jensen, a graduate of the University of Arizona’s College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture, calls herself an "urban forager".

Once, she took her children on a bicycle foraging expedition through the University area. They collected four pounds of sour oranges, a little under a pound of calamondins, a couple of grapefruits, and olives. The result? Two dozen jars of marmalade and preserves!

For more on Darbi, visit her website,



What's hot for your desert yard

Boxhill brings us its product pick of the month.


Photo courtesy of Boxhill/Nourishmat

Boxhill loves The Nourishmat, an all-in-one roll-out garden mat, because it takes the guesswork out of gardening. It allows users to grow a bounty of vegetables and herbs without the otherwise necessary experience, time, and resources required by traditional gardening.

This 4' x 6' all-in-one garden mat features a built-in irrigation system, pre-cut holes and plant spacing, 82 pre-planted seed balls, and 19 plant types - all easy to plant. Plus, the mat serves as an automatic weed barrier.

The best part? Anyone can use it. We at Boxhill know how gratifying it can be to grow a garden, and Nourishmat gives you the means and opportunity to do just that. Now available at Boxhill