If you have ever dreamed of creating an oasis in your own little corner of the Sonoran Desert, you can get ideas, advice and plants this weekend while supporting two local nonprofits at the first-ever Aquatic Plant Sale.
“There are quite a few ponders in Tucson — people who have ponds or even just a little barrel or water garden, fountain or water feature,” said Frances “Casey” Case, a coordinator of the fundraiser that will benefit Top Dog and Forever Wild Animal Rehabilitation Center.
“My husband and I are a little more unique. Our kids grew up and left home and we have a backyard that was mostly a swimming pool. We kept dealing with maintenance and algae and had the bright idea to turn it into a pond … we consider this one of the most successful things we have done to our house.”
Case and her husband, Lyle Steffe, have been longtime members of the Tucson Watergardeners, a nonprofit for those who enjoy water plants, fish and aspects of water gardening.
The club, which is currently on hiatus, has provided grants for education and helped with projects at local schools, the Reid Park Zoo, the University of Arizona and other organizations.
The club also has traditionally organized a spring aquatic plant sale, which Case called a great service to the community since few local nurseries offer water plants, and Internet plant sellers are often expensive, particularly when factoring in shipping costs.
“There is not a lot of availability of water plants, even commercially, and the water gardeners club has been the only source of ponding information that is not commercial. There are pond companies here in Tucson that build ponds, but many don’t know much about the plants,” Case said.
The upcoming sale, which was organized by several members of the water gardeners club, will attempt to fill that void, offering more than 50 different types of small and large plants priced between $2 and $40 each that Case said range from “tried-and-true to more unusual, but all in great condition.”
They will offer floating plants, a selection of tropical and hardy water lilies in a range of colors, and a wide range of marginals such as bamboo, rushes and water hibiscus.
The event also will feature free planting and ponding advice, and demonstrations by volunteers, animals and wildlife from Forever Wild and Top Dog.
Case said the two grassroots charities were selected by the five volunteers who organized the sale.
“We chose small, local organizations that don’t have a lot of support from a lot of venues because we felt it would make a big difference to them,” she said.
Top Dog helps people with physical disabilities train their own service dogs; it has worked with more than 500 owners and their dogs since 1987. Top Dog works with dogs of all sizes, from lap dogs to great Danes, to learn tasks from assisting with mobility to helping their owners dress and bringing them the phone.
The organization provides six 12-week training sessions a year that include a weekly one-hour group class and a weekly session with a trainer, along with educational materials. The cost is $350 for four semesters, and scholarships are available.
“We save people a lot of money. If you buy a dog someone else has trained, it will cost thousands of dollars. Our training gives you all the tools you need to train your dog for what you need and if you have a condition that progresses, like multiple sclerosis, you have the tools to teach the dog skills you need later without taking it back to a trainer,” said Helen Mendelsohn, president of Top Dog.
The organization is made up entirely of volunteers and operates from Mendelsohn’s home to save on overhead costs and provide more scholarships to clients.
“Any donations, no matter how big or small, are absolutely, positively appreciated,” Mendelsohn said.
Donations are also the lifeblood of Forever Wild Animal Rehabilitation Center, said founder Darlene Braastad. The nonprofit has been providing rehabilitation for injured and orphaned songbirds, mammals and raptors for 18 years with a goal to release them back to the wild.
It has provided care for virtually every species of native Arizona wildlife, including coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, coatis, skunks, squirrels and baby javelinas. It is also a sanctuary for domestic pets such as geese, chickens and rabbits.
The facility — which includes a large barn, outbuildings and several aviaries — is governed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but is not funded by any government agency.
“We give Tucsonans, who are really kind about taking in animals that are hurt or injured, a place to bring them and someone to take care of them. We only exist on donations and our own personal funds when we have to,” Braastad said. “We are always short of money and it is really important for our operating costs. We will spend $200 a month just on mealworms this year.”