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Cactus garden to remain a campus jewel

Illustration by Arnie Bermudez
By Jessica Lee
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, November 7, 2003

It has been nearly two years since the brouhaha to save the Joseph Wood Krutch cactus garden erupted on campus. In November 2001, the Alumni Association publicly exposed its proposal to build a multimillion dollar plaza in the center of campus - in which case the cactus garden could have been relocated to the western side of Old Main. Almost instantly, people unified their outcry at the possible move because it would have jeopardized the health of the three priceless boojum trees in the Krutch garden.

Saving the 70-year-old boojum trees - which were imported from the Baja Peninsula before the Mexican Government issued protection of the species - was at the top of the agenda of those who felt passionate about the Krutch garden.

What ultimately resulted from "the battle of the boojums" was proof that circumventing public participation in campus planning could cause any project to nosedive into controversy.

After protests, petitions, letters to the editor and hundreds of e-mails to President Peter Likins, the Alumni Plaza-Krutch Garden Working Group was established and, ultimately, common ground was found.

That established ground - twisted with roots of rare plant specimens - was that the Krutch garden would not only remain intact, but that it would be expanded.

The Alumni Plaza has incorporated - without choice really - the cactus garden into its plan. As Libby Davison, director of the UA Campus Arboretum and member of the working group put it, "The plan as it is, as we see it, is a legal contract. I am confident that unless there is some serious accident, the garden will be completed as planned and accepted by everyone who contributed input."

After reviewing the most recent construction plans given by Michael McDonald, the spokesperson for the Alumni Plaza, it is evident that the Krutch garden is not the campus centerpiece some people had hoped.

Jessica Lee

While the Alumni Association boasts that the garden will be expanded to 1.5 times its size, the campus community should be disappointed with the final design. The current garden, strangled by the elliptical shape that it had been reduced to over the years, is fairly small. Enlarging it 50 percent is nothing to jump for joy about - rather, the plan will again smash the garden between the future bike lane and heavily used pedestrian path. The east side, with bikes whizzing by, will hardly be a place of "meditation," as McDonald wrote in the document "Alumni Plaza: Frequently Asked Questions."

The bottom line is that the garden will not be moved. And we should be thankful for all the dedicated people who stepped up to save this delicate piece of UA heritage.

But for those of us who feel a connection through the garden either biologically or through the words of the late naturalist writer, Joseph Wood Krutch, the final vision for the garden should be a disappointment.

Two years ago, there was potential to greatly expand the garden. The original cactus garden, created in 1891 and located to the west of Old Main, took up 25,000 square feet and housed more than 600 species of desert flora.

In 1929, it was moved and expanded to encompass what is now the entire Mall from Old Main to Bear Down Gym. Now, the Alumni Plaza campaign has taken the stand that the Krutch cactus garden is a valuable piece of UA heritage.

David Duffy, director of Campus Facilities and Planning, said in a Mar. 8, 2002 Lo Que Pasa story, "The group decided to do a very light intervention to enhance the current garden. The decisions made by this group will preserve the legacy of the garden, enhance its educational value and provide a natural environment with benches where the campus community can come for respite."

Upon reflection of the garden's history, Duffy's comment is sincere at best and solely PR at worst.

While the Alumni Plaza attempts to unite generations of UA students, it seems to do so artificially with pavement, fountains and grass. The garden can be, and should be even larger.

Our only saving grace is that Davison still has great influence over the Krutch garden and its future.

She has led many landscape improvement projects on campus and has a strong dedication to the UA and the cactus garden. We should feel assured that she will be involved with the actual cactus garden project, which will occur in the final phases of plaza construction in the summer when most people are not around.

The individuals who cherish the garden have gotten this far by bonding together through demonstrations and working groups.

It is up to these people to keep their ears and eyes open and make sure the Alumni Association sticks to its word and dedicates the funds necessary to ensuring that the Krutch cactus garden can be the best it can be - considering the future tiny trapezoidal space that is responsible for housing such a UA treasure.

Jessica Lee is an environmental science senior. She can be reached at

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