The Garden Team Gets a Shout-Out!

guest post by Lynn Hassler, Tucson Audubon Garden Team Captain

The wildlife garden in front of the shop at 5th and University was had a long history, but after its most recent big upgrades (raised pathways, new plants) in 2006, there were no provisions set for maintaining it. While teaching a class on bird gardening at Tucson Audubon a couple of years ago, it became clear to Lynn Hassler that the space needed help. Overrun with Bermuda grass and overgrown with plants placed too close together and never pruned, Lynn pitched the idea of volunteering her time to improve the look. 

It took some time to get a reliable team of volunteers in place, but I am now very fortunate to have some true all-stars:   MARCIA BECKER, KEITH ASHLEY, and JULIA ARMSTRONG.  All are passionate about plants and gardening, enjoy being physical, have keen minds, and like to laugh.  I try to teach them what I know, but also make sure that we have fun.  Whether they know it or not, they are learning simply by being around the plants throughout the seasons.  Impressive has been their perseverance for gardening through the long hot summer months—testimony to their commitment.   We share plants and seeds, and we’ve taken a number of field trips off site—to a local wholesale nursery, Mt. Lemmon for summer wildflowers, Empire Cienega for birds and for the greened-up grassland experience, and to Tohono Chul for a plant sale.

MARCIA (middle right): Volunteering in the TAS garden has provided me with the opportunity to learn from the best, Lynn Hassler-Garden Queen  and birder  extraordinaire . Helping to create and maintain a place of beauty as well as enjoying the  camaraderie of my fellow gardeners, makes my time in the TAS garden a genuine delight.

KEITH: I knew I had landed in the right place when Lynn gave me a first tour of the garden, carefully explaining the wildlife benefits of each species--from larval food sources for butterflies to nectar hot-spots for hummingbirds.  She patted the top of the bamboo muhly as if it were a favorite pet. I find it much easier to remember plants' personalities, and how to care for them, when I have the chance to work with them regularly like this, under the guidance of someone who clearly loves to garden.

JULIA (right): It has been very gratifying working with the garden, it was a neglected space and now it is looking wonderful! I’ve been friends with Lynn for a long time and she asked me to help. I love plants and birds, and it’s been a great experience.

Two weeks ago we put in a number of new plants, many to increase the butterfly and other pollinator diversity.  Eventually we hope to have plant I.D. tags.  The donation of a bird bath by Pete and Betty Bengtson  has been a real plus.  Cynthia Pruett donated an irrigation clock which has made a huge difference in terms of the watering; it used to be turned on manually, which wasn’t happening very often.  
Getting ready to plant under the dappled sunlight
Another volunteer, ALICE KENNEDY, kindly provides supplemental plant watering.  She used to garden with us on Wednesdays, but has since gone on to a paying job.  One of Alice’s claims to fame is that she single-handedly dug up a number of those tenacious queen’s wreath tubers. 
Most recently the YMCA building manager agreed to let us begin work on the landscaping on the west side of the building so that we can extend the wildlife habitat.  You will be seeing some changes there, although they will be gradual.
A friend recently asked me:  When will the garden be done?  Well, the answer to that is “never” because all great gardens are ever-evolving. 

Lynn has been a gardener her entire life and worked at the Tucson Botanical Gardens for 14 years in a variety of capacities:  Nursery Manager, Volunteer Coordinator, Newsletter Editor, Director of Education, and Director of Horticulture.  She has  written several  books—Birds of the American  Southwest;  Gambel’s Quail;  Roadrunners;  Hummingbirds of the American West; The Raven: Soaring Through History, Legend and Lore; and Hot Pots: Container Gardening in the Arid Southwest.  For the past 12 years she has written a bird gardening column for Bird Watcher’s Digest.  Lynn has previously served on the board of directors of the Arizona Native Plant Society and Tucson Audubon. She currently teaches classes and leads trips for Tucson Audubon, Tohono Chul Park, and Desert Botanic Garden in Phoenix.  Check out Lynn and her Tucson garden in a new book by Bill Thompson III, Bird Homes and Habitats, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Find her in the section entitled “The Birdy Backyard All-Stars.” 


  1. Nice article and photos. I always like to volunteer recognition pieces. Especially like the photos as I don't know a lot of them.


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