In the annual Growdown! competition, landscape designers compete to create a new space in 24 hours. Our gardening columnist Darbi Davis meets the finalists and finds out what’s new this year. (Scroll to the bottom for the winners.) 

Cover photo courtesy of Scott Calhoun

Growdown!, the 3rd annual 24-hour garden design competition, breaks ground at the Tucson Botanical Gardens bright and early March 18th, where three design groups – this year, all women – will wrangle for best in show. They have 24 hours over the course of three days to transform a 15’ x 20’ naked plot into a fashionable pocket garden.

“We’re very excited about this year’s competition. Construction of our new visitor center forced us to relocate the event, which turned out to be a great change,” says Melissa D’Auria, TBG’s director of marketing. The designers will build their gardens in a shady ramada area called the “Sycamore Lot” – an added bonus for spectators viewing Growdown! construction and behind-the-scenes production at the gardens.

Growdown! 2015 is marked with change. Not only will it cultivate inspiration for your own outdoor space and offer some great designs, but there will also be garden art, water harvesting and mini-sessions where the finalists demonstrate techniques and DIY tips to take away. This not-to-be-missed forum begins promptly at 11 am each day (see details at below). We suggest arriving around 10:30 am to beat the crowds. Friday around 2pm marks the last hour of installation, when the air will be tense as they race to finish.

And finally, while the professionals are trenching the caliche, be sure to peruse the next generation of landscape architects in the student competition, also new this year. The dueling rivals  –  University of Arizona and Arizona State University –  have put their differences aside in honor of design in the desert. The top ten submissions will be represented in Growdown! and their final designs will be displayed for your viewing pleasure – right alongside the professionals.

Meet the Designers

This year’s competition is a battle of a seasoned suite of talented women who are used to transforming our Southern Arizona topography, from the High Desert Dragoon Mountains to the Sonoran Santa Cruz River.

Sonya Becker, Residential Landscape Design Supervisor at Northwest Landscaping, is a Tucson native who has been practicing landscape design for 16 years. Her favorite outdoors place to frequent is the Tucson Mountains. She hikes while studying natural desert forms, which are then reflected in her landscape designs.

Dara Widner, landscape designer and Beverly Wilson, landscape architect,  met while earning their Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Arizona. They have been friends ever since. Independently, they own design firms – Widner owns Stellaria in Green Valley and Wilson owns Mountain Oak Design in Cochise County.  They teamed up for Growdown! to demonstrate high desert design right here in the heart of Tucson (modified for our low desert canvas). Ask them their favorite outdoor designs and they both go for old favorites. Beverly has a heart for the Garrett Eckbo-designed space around the Tucson Convention Center while Dara enjoys our local designated arboretum, the University of Arizona Campus.

Margaret Joplin is a landscape architect, public art consultant and principal of Design Collaborations, where she mixes standard materials and simple form with desert flora and her signature handmade glass accents. Margaret is reluctant to say what her own favorite outdoors place is. She says she finds it hard to choose one, there are so many!



Growdown! 2015 is at the Tucson Botanical Gardens at 2150 N. Alvernon Way Wednesday, March 18th through Friday, March 20th from 7am – 3pm. Judging, awards and designer/student forum will be held Saturday, March 21st. The designs will be up through April 2015.

* Each of the three landscape designers competing for the 2015 Growdown! title will give a 30-minute presentation on one of the techniques they are using in their design. Wednesday, March 18 at 11 a.m: Sonya Becker shares some creative methods for designing interesting and beautiful passive water harvesting elements for your home garden; Thursday, March 19 at 11 a.m: Dara Widner demonstrates using pebble mosaic; Friday, March 20 at 11 a.m: Margaret Joplin reveals techniques for creating imaginative garden art from found items and industrial materials.

Added March 25th:

And the winners are…

1st Place and People’s Choice for Best Water Harvesting Feature: Sonya Becker, Northwest Landscaping

Photo by Jon D'Auria

Photo by Jon D’Auria

People’s Choice for Best Garden Art: Beverly Wilson, RLA & Dara Widner

Photo by Jon D'Auria

Photo by Jon D’Auria

Best Student Submission: Leslie Minervini and Sophia Essian (no photo available.)

Reprinted with permission:

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