Women's History Month | Desert Botanical Garden


The Garden continues to celebrate Women’s History Month by highlighting leaders, both present and past, who have shaped the Garden through philanthropy, education, exhibition and horticulture.

This week, learn more about the Garden’s Senior Director of Horticulture Tina Wilson who manages the Desert Landscape School and philanthropist Virginia Melody Ullman, which the Ullman Terrace is named after.


Tina Wilson 

Tina Wilson has more than two decades of experience in horticulture, public education and science. Tina leads the horticulture department at the Garden in addition to managing the Desert Landscape School and the greenhouse, shade houses and learning labs. She and her team help put on the Garden’s biannual Plant Sale event.

Here are five things to know about Tina:

1. Childhood and College

Tina was raised in Lexington, Kentucky and grew up with limited resources. Her mother would find creative ways to expose her children to new experiences — many of which involved the natural world. Tina had the opportunity to spend a lot of time outdoors gardening, hiking, camping and playing outside. Spending time with nature became a happy and inspirational place for her. During college, Tina found interest in a career that was focused in growing and cultivating fruits, flowers, vegetables and trees. She didn’t think twice before enrolling in a career that would be her happy zone and where she could get her hands dirty.

2. Passionate for Desert Plants

Before moving to Arizona, Tina lived in south Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands — two tropical places. So, when she moved to Arizona, she was amazed with the plant life on this side of the country. Tina was interested how plants that require very little water can grow to beautiful living organism in the desert. To this day she is still in awe of their capabilities and resilience.


3. Everything is an Opportunity

Tina believes that every experience is an opportunity to become a better person, even those experiences that don’t feel the best. You walk away maybe being a better listener, practicing patience, being humbled and grateful. Every day we have the opportunity to become a better human. She constantly looks out for those and tries to lean into them even when they are uncomfortable.


4. Persistence

Tina believes failure is a great teacher, devastating initially, but it can be faced head-on and extract the pieces to help reshape our thinking and decision-making to build from, resulting in a better outcome. As hard as it is, failure can be one of the best learning experiences in life.


5. Committed to Conservation

Tina is committed to making contributions to the overall health and sustainability of a non-profit organization whose mission she firmly believes in and supports from a conservation and education perspective. She hopes that through her interactions and leadership she is aiding in the development of staff and volunteers to be the best they can and hopes that they will pay it forward for the betterment of our community and environment.


Virginia Melody Ullman

Virginia Ullman was a philanthropist and served on the Garden’s board for six years. She was born August 23, 1907, and died in 2005 in Phoenix. Virginia was raised in Chicago, and she first arrived to the Valley in 1937. She and her husband George Ullman were generous supporters of several Arizona cultural attractions, including the Heard Museum and the Garden.

Here are five things to know about Archer:

1. Ullman Terrace

If you’ve ever eaten lunch at the Patio Café or seen a concert at Ullman Terrace, you might’ve recognized Virginia’s name. The area was named in honor of Trustee Emerita Virginia Ullman. The terrace is a three-level patio that replaced a carport and a crumbling parking lot. The area was completed in 1990. Ullman Terrace underwent a renovation and reopened in September 2011. The renovation included an expanded stage, resurfacing, new lighting and furnishings and a new planting design.

2. Phoenix Home

Virginia built an adobe home near Camelback Mountain and would ride horseback across the desert to Taliesin West where she enjoyed concerts and visited with friend Frank Lloyd Wright.

3. Phoenix Zoo

Virginia was a founding board member of the Phoenix Zoo, next door to the Garden. During her time at the zoo, one of Virginia’s accomplishments was saving the Arabian oryx from extinction by bringing it from Oman to the zoo’s breeding program.

4. Seashell Collection

Throughout her early life, Virginia developed a passion to travel the world. She traveled extensively to Oman and Kuwait to study desert life in those areas. During her travels, she would collect seashells when she could from all parts of the world.

5. Service at the Garden

For more three decades, Virginia supported the Garden. She served as a member of the Board of Trustees from 1986 to 1991, and donated funds, which were matched by the board, to help in the restoration of Webster Auditorium in 1990.