Some of the historic trees around Tucson’s Benedictine Monastery will live on despite plans to flip the iconic site into a luxury apartment complex.
A private foundation has stepped up to help with efforts to preserve the story of the Benedictine sisters and their orchard at 800 N. Country Club Road.
The Kaimas Foundation awarded a $10,000 grant to Mission Garden to transplant and graft some of the trees from the monastery’s grounds.
Mission Garden, 946 W. Mission Lane, features heirloom Sonoran Desert-adapted fruit orchards and vegetable gardens interpreting 4,000 years of agriculture in Tucson.
Some of the avocado, peach, pomegranate, date and orange trees will be preserved at the site and others will be transferred to or grafted at the garden on the city’s west side. Grafting involves taking branches of the monastery trees and binding them to tree trunks, known as rootstock, at the gardens to regrow the tree.
“This is a great opportunity to keep the history of these trees alive,” said Jesus Garcia, a board member with Mission Garden.
He said it has been nice to get to know the property owner and developer Ross Rulney and brief him on the significance of the trees.
“He didn’t realize he had a little treasure there,” Garcia said.
Following a tour of the monastery grounds, Ann Charles, executive director of the Kaimas Foundation, brought the situation to the attention of the board, which agreed to help.
“Our motto is small solutions to big problems,” she said. “A lot of people were concerned about preserving the history of those trees.”
The educational component of the project was very appealing to the foundation, Charles said.
“If it ends up being a separate section at Mission Gardens there will be an educational section about the nuns and why they brought these plants here,” she said.
The foundation is a private, family operation and does not accept government funds or solicitations.
The 6-acre site was bought last year by local developer Rulney who plans to build luxury apartments on the grounds around the monastery.
His plans have changed several times as he has worked with city leaders and area neighbors.
The project has been closely followed by community members, some of whom wanted the entire grounds spared from development.
“This has been a very public process with neighbor involvement,” said Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik. “This positive step is another sign that this is all public and above board.”
He said complete preservation was not realistic.
“We’re trying to preserve as much as we can,” Kozachik said. “Ross is all-in on this. There was no arm twisting.”
The significance of the trees was brought to Rulney’s attention from the moment he bought the site and he has kept the water on as he awaits city zoning changes to start construction.
“As I’ve said from the beginning, I’m a Tucsonan and want to develop this property with as much sensitivity as possible,” Rulney said. “Partnering with Mission Garden to preserve the work of the Benedictine sisters is part of that commitment.”
The monastery will be preserved, get a protected historic designation and have a use that includes public access.
Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who occupied the monastery, announced its closure in September 2016 and moved to Missouri earlier this year.
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