Desert beauty in the heart of the city

The City of Phoenix's ongoing renovation of Tovrea Castle, one of the Valley's premier oddball landmarks, has given us locals hope that our state's capital has finally learned to spell "p-r-e-s-e-r-v-a-t-i-o-n."

The East Phoenix estate -- which looks like a royal wedding cake defended by a swarm of palace-guard saguaros -- was built by Italian entrepreneur Alessio Carraro and named after meat-packing magnate Edward Tovrea, who bought the baronial digs for his wife, Della, in 1931.

Jillian Sloan

Saguaro cacti surround Tovrea Castle, site of an ongoing restoration project by the City of Phoenix. Until the building itself is made accessible, the public will have to be content with tours of its Carraro Cactus Garden.

The sentinel saguaros are part of the Castle's spectacular Carraro Cactus Garden, which was designed and planted by Alessio and his sons in 1928. Until recently, it was a secret garden, opened to the public only once, in 1984, for one lousy weekend. But the city introduced regular public tours in early 2007, and guided walks through our arid little Eden -- which is packed to the gills with both common and exotic samples of high- and low-Sonoran Desert flora -- are now scheduled every other Saturday, January 19 through April 19.

Tovrea Castle Carraro Cactus Garden: 5041 E. Van Buren, Phoenix, 602-256-3220 Closed toe shoes and advance registration through the website are required for tours. http://phoenix.gov/parks/tovrea.html. Map

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