By Susan Call
When Civano was being designed as a new community, its planners made the decision that some of its streets would honor local Tucson leaders. People were recongized for their contributions to the city in areas such as peace keeping (Sixto Molino, the Royalstons), and civic improvements (Cele Peterson, George Tolman, Wayne Moody). One street in particular is very fitting for our neighborhood because it is named for the man who introduced community gardens to Tucson: George Brookbank.
George Brookbank came to Tucson from England originally, where he had been educated in agriculture at Reading University and Downing College, Cambridge. After attending the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad, West Indies, he ended up working in Tanganyika for thirteen years. There he helped underdeveloped communities improve their agricultural productivity.
In Africa he said his professional career as an Agricultural Officer had him dealing with how to protect crops from monkeys, baboon, pigs and elephants, which was perhaps good preparation for his later work in Tucson, starting in 1971. Then some of his duties involved helping residents learn how to live with javalina, rabbits, squirrels and other desert wildlife.
His work in Tucson also included radio shows, a weekly TV program and a column in the local newspaper, all having to do with urban gardening. He provided demonstrations at the Extension Center on North Campbell Avenue and in Green Valley. He began the Master Gardener Program, which was a natural outgrowth of the volunteers he trained for the Cooperative Extension Service. And along the way he somehow found time to help people develop neighborhood or community gardens. He said the first garden came about because a resident wanted to know how to deal with keeping down the weeds in a vacant lot. So the 50 foot by 30 foot wide urban lot became a garden.
It could be said that our Civano Commnnity Garden on Richard Ashely Circle is a tribute to this man, George Brookbank, whose influence is felt in so many ways throughout Tucson. He was one of the original proponents for the restoration of the Mission Garden, on the other side of the Santa Cruz River, which is near the Mercado San Agustin, easily reached via the new streetcar.
Last April longtime Civano residents on the street bearing his name, Craig and Bobbie Feltheim, entertained George (now 90 years old) at their home for a Saturday morning coffee. A number of neighbors had the opportunity to meet him and express their appreciation for his efforts on behalf of our community.
George Brookbank also wrote several books on desert gardening and landscaping. Some of the most popular are Desert Landscaping, The Desert Gardener’s Calendar, and Desert Gardening—Fruits and Vegetables, The Complete Guide.