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   Nature's Mimics
   Tubac Secret
           Garden Inn

   Parade of Ponds
Master Gardener Journal  

T H E   T R A V E L I N G   G A R D E N E R

Tubac Secret Garden Inn

by Linda A Guy,
Master Gardener

You've got to love a place that sends a packet of homegrown wildflower seeds with its room confirmation. Tubac Secret Garden Inn is a self-described Spanish colonial bed and breakfast secluded on roughly three acres in the Old Town sector of Tubac, near the Presidio historic park and St. Ann's church. We were close enough to visit the entire town on foot, nicely shielded from road dust or the noise of fellow weekend visitors.

Retired from teaching in 1981, Seattle-area residents Don and Leila Pearsall felt the need to "chase the sun." Touring through Tubac, they found one particular For Sale sign irresistible. It was to be a local version of Sedona's Tlaquepaque, but the builders had barely managed to construct a gazebo and a single building (sales office with several individual model offices) before their cash was exhausted. The Pearsalls had discovered their retirement home in a failed commercial development! These separate units would eventually become the basis for the bed and breakfast.

For many years, the acreage was the couple's creative playground. They had fun "just pooping around" (one of Leila's favorite expressions), adding hardscape and plantings as it suited them. Leila loves rocks, and the two regularly hauled them from the countryside for various projects. When we visited, she was deploying her current inventory into a channel to divert runoff from the town's building boom. Curious about adobe brick construction, they dug, formed and dried clay onsite. Adobe walls delineating outdoor 'roomss' and even an outside bread oven were built.

Tubac BridgeStatuary created by an artist acquaintance was added to a water feature and the garden itself. A swimming pool was turned into a rather large koi pond spanned by a bright blue bridge. A service shed was built as an excuse to display Leila's stained glass windows, which are also in evidence on an old bunkhouse adjacent to the guestrooms.

Because Tubac is in the Santa Cruz River valley at an elevation of some 3,680 feet, most of the Inn's vegetation was still in winter dormancy during our mid-February visit. Notable exceptions were stretches of wildflowers and a patch of sweet violets blooming in a shady wet corner. (Drifts of violets also grew in the Tumacacori mission garden a few miles south). Nonetheless, the garden's warm weather potential was evident in its structure. A large shaded walkway is covered in Lady Bank's roses, while another arbor is covered in wisteria. Our private patio was bordered with a magnificent Queen's Wreath bower. There was also an amazing compost pile that looked to be half a city block in length!

Leila single-handedly maintains the gardens, no small chore since Don passed away two years ago. Thinking of all the work she does, I was reminded of our annual garden tour theme 'Real Gardens for Real People.' There is no fulltime maintenance staff to disturb her solitude.

Tubac is located 45 miles south of Tucson, 20 miles north of Nogales, and is replete with history. The oldest European settlement in what is now Arizona, it became part of the U.S. as part of the Gadsden Purchase. The original native settlement became a farm supporting the new mission in Tumacacori to the south. Eventually, a presidio was built to house a garrison when the natives revolted against the Spanish incursion. Guided tours of the Barrio de Tubac ruins, an archaeological preserve south of the state historic park are available on a limited basis and require advance reservations. Tubac is also on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail reaching to San Francisco from Nogales.

Perhaps more widely known for its galleries and shops, Tubac's modest size makes it easy to browse in a day's time. But don't count on seeing it that quickly! Tubac's allure is the presence of the artists themselves, in the working studios that are often accessible from the galleries. We chatted with many of them, and consequently needed most of two days to see the village. Lingering over delicious meals in the handful of wonderful restaurants, or enjoying a coffee or glass of wine in our 'secret garden' further slowed our pace.

If my recommendation to visit Leila Pearsall's establishment is insufficient to tempt you, it might be interesting to note that a team from Sunset Magazine occupied the other room at the Inn. This novice writer was in good company, but alas I had no opportunity to hobnob with the pros.

The Tubac Secret Garden Inn is located at the end of Placita de Anza (#13), at the eastern end of town. Reservations are required (520.398.9371) with a two-night minimum-cash or checks only. The property can be viewed at

Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated January 25, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
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