Tucson’s Main Library Offers Cool Reads & Fresh Seeds, Done Dirt Cheap

June 11, 2014

The Library Planter Project.  We dig it.

The Library Planter Project.
We dig it.

by James J. Jefferies

We enjoy some of the world’s nicest weather from October through May, with the kind of gorgeously mild winters that attract snowbirds from around the globe. In exchange for this, Mother Nature puts Tucsonans through a yearly trial, that usually begins in earnest around the first of June, when the temperature regularly begins to spike over 100 degrees.

Summertime can be a long, tough slog if you let it, but those of us who’ve called the Old Pueblo home for any extended period of time know that like any place with a unique and intense season, it just requires a bit of forethought and planning. You gotta dress properly, have a series of hideouts, and water/iced tea/coffee at your side at all times, and really, it’s not so bad as you scurry from one place to the next during the daytime.

One place that should definitely be on your short list of Downtown checkpoints is the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. Number one, it’s incredibly well-air conditioned, but beyond that, things are growing there! And we’re not just talking about the expansion of minds from countless hours of reading, as terrific and proud we are of all of that. We’re talking plants of all kinds, edible foods, a virtual cornucopia of lush growth that awaits those willing to sprout green thumbs thanks to the Pima County Public Library’s Seed Library.

I know, it sounds strange at first. A ‘seed library’? Yes! In cooperation with Master Gardener, The University of Arizona, Native Seeds Search, and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, eight local branches (no pun intended) of the Pima County Public Library are host to the Seed Library collections.

John Connelly volunteers monthly, and he's giving our green friends their favorite beverage.

John Connelly volunteers monthly, and he’s giving our green friends their favorite beverage.

Prospective ‘borrowers’ can take packets of seeds, checking them out just like you would a book, only, of course, there’s no penalty for not bringing them back. But, if you become a master gardener, and can harvest seeds from your rich bounty of plant excellence, you are encouraged to contribute seeds to the collection. The seeds are also broken down into ‘easy’ and ‘advanced’ categories, and this actually refers to the level of effort required to harvest seeds from the plants, not so much how tough they are to grow or maintain.

The entire thrust of the program is to cultivate awareness and more widespread practice of seed harvesting/nurturing skills, especially among people for whom gardening may not immediately leap to mind as a viable and totally doable pursuit that yields fruit in the form of, well, fruits and vegetables!

Yes, those are real tomatoes growin' up a storm right in front of the library.

Yes, those are real tomatoes growin’ up a storm right in front of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library.



But if all that wasn’t cool enough, yes, there’s more! As a way of both beautifying the Main Library location Downtown, and drawing attention to this leafy public program, they are also engaged in a Library Planter Project. “We had this idea last summer,” said Betsy Langley, a librarian who helps oversee the project. “We’ve had these planters forever, and there were trees in them, but they all looked really sad, and the dirt was dry, so we convinced the powers that be to let us begin cultivating them.”

There are 17 gargantuan planters that adorn the very front of the Main Library entrance, and if you’ve been by there at all recently, you’ll notice a very impressive crop of plants, all of which have been steadily growing since the current project’s inception this past September. The plants there are watered a minimum of once a day, and once a month, there are ‘planter parties’ in which a regular group of hardy volunteers come down, till the soil, pick out any kind of detritus that ends up in the planters and keep everything well-pruned and growing healthily.

Volunteers of all ages enjoy working the planters.

Volunteers of all ages enjoy working the planters.

“I started coming down about eight months ago,” said Tucsonan John Connelly, who volunteers monthly. “There used to be all kinds of cigarette butts and garbage in these planters, but now the trees have doubled in size, there’s all kinds of stuff growing, and it’s just a really nice volunteer opportunity.” The project really adds a fantastic shot of natural color and ambiance to an otherwise very urban-looking façade to the Main Library location.

Your Main Library location Downtown not only has fantastically free things to read, in one of the most well-air conditioned environments in the city, but it also could potentially be your gateway to growing your own food! For more on the amazing Seed Library, please check out the Pima County Public Library’s homepage here.