‘Plant freak’: Meet the man whose Tucson property is overrun with exotic greenery

Mark Dimmitt takes gardening to a whole new level

Meet the man whose Tucson property is overrun with exotic greenery

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Just outside of Tucson, down a long dirt road in the middle of the desert sits Mark Dimmitt’s own personal oasis. From vibrant green cacti native to the Sonoran desert to exotic plants from the likes of South America, Dimmitt’s yard is overrun with thousands of plants from all over the world.

To laymen, it’s an extraordinary garden. However, to call Dimmitt’s collection a garden is a drastic understatement — Dimmitt’s property is home to a horticulturist’s paradise.

It all started 40 years ago, when he moved to the southwest. Dimmitt packed a moving van with his most cherished possessions: plants. Soon enough, the van was packed high with weird shrubs and pretty flowers leaving no room for home decor essentials.

That didn’t bother Dimmitt, though. He left his furniture behind and decided he would make a second trip.

His priorities were plant-focused.

It’s that kind of dedication that blossomed his part-time passion into a full-time obsession.

Now retired, Dimmitt spends most of his time tending to his extensive collection he’s cultivated for the better part of four decades.

He’s a self-proclaimed “plant freak.”

“It’s become an obsession, I love to be surrounded by beauty,” he said.

His collection is a burst of technicolor in an otherwise dusty dirt lot -- a haven to weird plants from across the globe and even some that you wouldn’t find in the wild.

Though Dimmit began his collection when he moved to Tucson, his love of plants goes back to his childhood.

In fact, his favorite memories are of getting lost in his grandparent’s gardens.

“I could go wandering down there and get away from my parents, I was always a loner,” he said. “It was heaven for me, it was complete bliss.”

As a kid, gardens provided Dimmitt with a place of peace and refuge from a chaotic world -- and still do today.

Spanning around 1 acre, Dimmitt’s collection includes two full-size greenhouses, a patio stuffed with evergreen trees and shrubs and a yard completely covered in cacti and outrageous roots that look like they were plucked from a tide pool.

If he had the time and money, Dimmitt would aim to build more greenhouses, but said he already has more plants than he can take care of on his own. So much so, he has two helpers at his place multiple times a week. One of them is Robert Villa.

Villa met Dimmitt in 2011 and after seeing his impressive collection, Villa knew he wanted to raise plants of his own.

“I had no context for what I was about to enter,” Villa said about Dimmit’s collection. “That’s when my love affair with plants began.”

At the time, Villa wasn’t into gardening. As a “die hard” zoologist, Villa’s passions laid with amphibians and reptiles. That changed and today Villa is somewhat of Dimmitt’s right-hand man, helping him take care of the thousands of plants around the property.

More than anything, Dimmitt is, and always has been, a role model to Villa — even through childhood.

“I used to watch him on the Desert Speaks program when I was a kid,” Villa said. “The fact that now working with him and understanding nature through his eyes is sort of a huge blessing. I try not to ever take it for granted.”

Tending to the thousands of plants on Dimmitt’s property is no easy task, but it helps Villa gain new perspectives.

“Plants can be a gateway to being a little bit more receptive to the world around you,” he said.

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