John and Judy Murray say visitors have to be inside their Tucson Mountains-area home to fully appreciate their outdoor desert landscape.

Another natural landscape of sorts regularly brings surprises to the midtown garden of Rosie and E.Y. Hooper.

Both are among the six stops on this year’s home and garden tour led by the Tucson Botanical Gardens April 12. The escorted excursion includes refreshments and a bus ride to each stop.


The Murrays’ 2013 home showcases the lush desert view that was left nearly intact when the 2,550-square-foot home was built. It’s surrounded by tall, mature saguaros, several species of cholla, bursage, acacia and palo verde.

The couple, who moved from Washington, D.C., in 2011, added 10 ocotillo and a velvet mesquite, two desert species that John Murray loves but couldn’t find on their 3.6-acre lot.

Living in Egypt for a time drew the couple to the desert environment. “We decided that since we want to live in the desert, we’d actually live right in the desert,” he says to explain why they picked a remote location in Tucson.

John Murray likened their desire to live in the desert to Bedouins who roll up the sides of their tents during the day to blend the outdoor Saharan Desert with indoor living space. They become separated at night when the sides are unrolled.

Nearly every window in the Murrays’ modern home gives that similar feel of living in the midst of the Sonoran Desert. Architect Paul Weiner designed many of the windows specifically to frame the desert view to maximum effect.

Judy’s yoga room, for instance, has a glass wall that looks out on a giant saguaro. When she’s lying on the floor, another small window at that height allows her to see a palo verde.

Weiner, owner of DesignBuild Collaborative, measured how tall John and Judy are when they stand and when they sit. Then he positioned windows at the right height so that the views zero in on what they would see of the desert landscape and the Tucson Mountains beyond.

The long windows in the kitchen and garage accommodate their specific sightlines so that the framed view shows as much nature as possible.

The guest bedroom also sports a long window, which is positioned so someone lying on the bed will get a good view.

Participants of the April 12 tour will see plenty outdoors, too. The home includes two rain-harvesting systems as well as a gray-water system, all of which irrigate the plants.

The couple will introduce the tour to “The Old One,” a stately saguaro with arms bent downward; “Saguaro Island” with lots of cactus, and the “cathedral area” in which palo verdes encircle a fairly open area.

John also plans to point out how Weiner adjusted the design of the house to save an old saguaro.


The fenced yards around the Hoopers’ early-20th-century home provide natural views of a different kind.

The couple allows plants to establish themselves around the yards through natural reseeding or propagation.

Mexican poppies and other wildflowers have spread throughout the front yard. Rosie Hooper is nurturing a basil that suddenly appeared, probably a volunteer from her old herb garden. Mother of millions succulents crop up in many nooks and crannies.

“I like the plants to decide where they’re happy,” she says. “I do that rather than buy a lot of plants.”

She also saves on plant purchases by transplanting cuttings and pups of succulents.

The Hoopers’ gardens reflect what they like and what they find.

Rosie Hooper trawls sales and snaps up recyclables. She turned bargain wrought iron into wall hangings. Discarded stones were used to create walkways and planters. A neighbor’s leftover roof tiles cover the couple’s side-patio extension.

Sometimes materials sit around for a while. An inexpensive fountain bowl sat for years before the Hoopers made it a focal point for a seating area near a shade tree.

Hooper also adds many plants that have personal meaning. She loves roses. Queen Anne lace conjures childhood memories. Creosote defines the place as the Sonoran Desert.

“It means ‘home,’” she says.

Friends give the couple gifts of plants and garden art, all of which find spots.

The various sources of plants and decor give the gardens an eclectic feel. But because people get confused when Hooper calls her garden “organic,” she gives it another name.

“I would call this style ‘emergent,’” she says.

Contact Tucson freelance writer Elena Acoba at