If you walk behind the Rincon Valley Farmers’ Market barn, you’ll find a cactus wonderland. Paths lead you around ocotillo, barrel cacti, and young saguaros. As you look, it is clear that each plant has been tenderly planted and lovingly cared for. Who are the painstaking caretakers of this special place? That is Deb Hendzel and her daughter Toni Gauna of the Wild Desert Nursery. The nursery is more than just a nursery; it is a refuge for plants that Deb and Toni have salvaged and rescued from development areas in the Rincon Valley. As Deb explains, “We work with the local developers to save as many of the native plants prior to their grading program.” As they gather these heavy prickly plants, Toni says they often have to “pray for the strength of ten gorillas.” Their prayers, it would seem, are often answered as the two women have rescued approximately 1000 plants in the last year.
So what inspires this act of love? Deb, Wild Desert Nursery’s founder and owner, explains, “I started this business, because the neighborhoods around me were starting to develop and the plants were just being destroyed. If we don't continue to rescue these plants our beautiful desert is going to be gone. Most of our native plants are slow growers, and some of these specimens are very old” and invaluable. Despite the fact that the plants are, in many ways, priceless, the nursery funds its activities through customers’ purchase of the plants at the nursery.
According to Deb salvaging can be “like a scavenger hunt” since the pair never knows what they might find. As a result, the nursery is never a static greenhouse (always having the same numbers of the same plants). Rather the plant refuge is always changing, depending on the salvage plants. Deb and Toni love what they do because they find “the people that visit the nursery are very supportive and encourag- ing.”
If you have ever grabbed a hold of an Ocotillo when its leaves are hiding its thorns, you might expect that the Wild Desert Nursery’s biggest challenge is removing the plants. It turns out, however, that that is one of Deb and Toni’s favorite aspects of running the nursery. Their biggest challenge, they say, is keeping up with the developments, and trying to get in touch with the developers early enough to convince them of the benefits of salvage.
Deb and Toni have great hopes for the future of the Wild Desert Nursery. Namely, they hope more people will learn of their endeavor and purchase native plants for their landscaping needs. Planting native specimens means that you can be sure you are using “drought tolerant, low maintenance” plants that will not harm the fragile desert ecosystem that surrounds your home.
Next time you’re at the Rincon Valley Farmers’ Market, be sure to wander behind the barn. You’ll encounter Deb, Toni, their favorite chickens (a hit with the kids), and some amazing native plants that are just waiting to find a new home. Deb and Toni will be looking for you! Tell them Rincon Institute sent you and you’ll receive a 10% discount on your next purchase!