The Book

Water Scarcity Inspires Tucsonan’s New Book

FROM THE HEADLINES: You’ve probably heard about the federally mandated Colorado River water cutbacks for the states of Arizona and Nevada and the nation of Mexico. They’re in response to nearly 25 years of drought in the Colorado River basin.

An August 16, 2022 news release from the Department of the Interior outlined these cutbacks:

  • Arizona: 592,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 21% of our state’s annual apportionment
  • Nevada: 25,000 acre-feet, which is 8% of the state’s annual apportionment
  • Mexico: 104,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 7% of the nation’s annual allotment

Big Problem, Big Opportunity

For Arizona, 21% is the biggest cut to date. No doubt about it, we’re facing a big challenge, but I also see an opportunity

Who am I? My name is Martha Retallick, and I’m a Tucson-based photographer, writer, and designer. 

For 20 years, I’ve been transforming my central Tucson home into an urban oasis. The secret to my success: Water harvesting. It’s at the heart of my new book, City Nature.

Water Harvesting Made Simple

In simple, easy-to-understand prose, I explain the rationale for water harvesting – and I’ll show you how I put it into practice. Since I purchased my central Tucson home in 2004, I have incorporated two types of water harvesting – passive and active – into my landscape. 

Passive water harvesting is simply the act of sculpting the landscape to direct the water to where it should be – like plants – and away from where it shouldn’t be – like a home’s foundation. My landscape incorporates a variety of passive water harvesting features that eliminate the need for irrigation that’s connected to the municipal water supply.

That’s right. No irrigation system here, and this is in a city where 40 percent of our municipal water is used outdoors for purposes like landscape and garden watering.

My landscape also includes two active water harvesting features, a 1,500-gallon cistern that collects rainwater for use in the back-yard garden, and a laundry-to-landscape graywater harvesting system that diverts wastewater from my washing machine to three fruit trees.

City Nature: A lavishly illustrated book that will look great on any coffee table – especially yours!

In City Nature, I introduce you to my ornery desert plants and the opinionated birds that decided my place is the perfect venue for nesting and raising young, I share my gardening triumphs and tragedies, and I explain how I capture it all through a lens. 

But this is so much more than a nature-themed coffee table book. The word “project” is one of my all-time favorites, and you’ll find a lot of them in City Nature. Among other things, I’ll show you how to harvest and grind mesquite tree pods into flour, and I share my favorite mesquite cookie recipe.

I am also a passionate upcycler. And what is upcycling? It’s the act of repurposing worthy objects in ways that are useful or artistic. In City Nature, I will show you my favorite upcycling project. It involves a used chandelier – and my garden.

City Nature concludes with a list of suggested resources that encompasses books, websites, organizations, and businesses that will help you learn more about desert gardening, landscaping, and water conservation.

Here’s a peek at what’s inside City Nature

My greywater harvesting system diverts washing machine water from the drain to three fruit trees. This two-page spread features some of the fruit from my lemon and pomegranate harvests.

A Book with a Mission

There’s an unfortunate trend in coffee table book publishing. It needs to stop, and I’m doing my part.

Unlike many other publishing ventures, where the photography, writing, and design are done in the United States, but the book printing is done overseas, City Nature is a made-in-Arizona project.

I shot the book photos with camera equipment purchased in Tucson, where I live. I also worked with two locally-based editors and an indexer, and the book was printed in Tucson and bound in Phoenix. In addition, when you receive your copy of City Nature, you’ll notice that the book was professionally packaged and shipped from Tucson.

For me, localism isn’t just a lovely word, it’s a way of life. That’s why I’m a proud member of Local First Arizona, the largest locally owned business coalition in North America with nearly 3,500 business members.

Why am I so passionate about localism? Here’s why:

  1. Localism strengthens our community. Supporting locally owned businesses keeps local people working in our hometown. It also fosters strong relationships, and let me tell you, this has been the best part of the City Nature project. I haven’t just done business with local people, I’ve made lifelong friends.
  2. Localism keeps dollars in our local economy. Back to what I just said about getting a book printed overseas. That money is never going to do anything to help Tucson or Arizona. Ever. By contrast, locally owned businesses spend their money here, and that enriches our entire community.
I use my cistern water in the vegetable garden, which is productive throughout the year. In my book, I share my favorite home-grown recipes, with an emphasis on fast and easy preparation.

City Nature: Table of Contents


Preface. Introducing the three themes of this book:

  1. Nature and the Built Environment
  2. Nature Nourishes
  3. Nature Delights

Introduction. I was born in Pittsburgh and raised outside of that city and Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania was where I formed my interests in nature and photography. My University of Michigan years sparked a sense of adventure that led to bicycle travel through all 50 of the United States. That same sense of adventure inspired me to buy a house with a yard that consisted of a sun-baked expanse of crushed rock in the front yard and out-of-control Bermuda grass (an invasive species) in the back-yard. Shortly after my offer was accepted, I showed my house-to-be to a friend. She saw my barren front yard and said, “That’s your palette!”

Chapter 1: Nature and the Built Environment. It’s one thing to be inspired when a friend calls your barren front yard a palette. Putting that inspiration into action – and integrating nature with my built environment? Now, that is a project! It’s one I’m still working on. In this chapter, I introduce the basic concepts of water harvesting, and show how I’ve put them into practice. I’ve also found that water harvesting is a great way to build community. My lush landscape had to be created from scratch, and that was a project that involved a lot of other people. 

Chapter 2: Nature Nourishes. It’s time to get those hands dirty in the desert garden! I’ll show you my gardening triumphs and tragedies, which include detailed instructions on harvesting mesquite tree pods and making flour from them. Care for a plate of mesquite cookies? I’m sharing my favorite recipe, along with fast and easy recipes for salsa and salad dressing.

Chapter 3: Nature Delights. When it comes to photography, there’s nothing more satisfying than capturing the veins on a leaf or eavesdropping on bees gathering nectar. Looking for some natural beauty that’s well inside the city limits? And a thriving back-yard bird habitat? You’ll find them here.


Plant Lists

Bird List

Suggested Resources

About the Author

In the title, I note the opinionated birds that view my place as the perfect hangout. Well, I’m opinionated too, and I share my views while displaying the best of my bird photography.

What You’ll Receive

In addition to photographing and writing City Nature, I designed the book. Although book design is often viewed through a visual perspective, the reader’s tactile experience is just as important. 

And why not? This book tackles a difficult problem – the need for the American Southwest to reduce its dependence on Colorado River water. 

So, why not solve this problem with style – and have fun doing it? This is why your enjoyment of City Nature is so important to me.

When you receive your copy of City Nature, I hope you’ll enjoy the vivid colors in the photos, the solid feel of the pages, and the velvety soft cover. I don’t want this book to just sit on your coffee table. I want you to pick it up – over and over again – and share its message with your family and friends.

The best part about rainwater harvesting is the beauty that results. Get ready to enjoy extra-large photos showing the wide variety of colorful plant life, like this hesperaloe in bloom.

Free Sample Chapter

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Testimonials and Media Mentions

Martha has created a delightful confluence of art and ecology! Her words and pictures tell a story that reminds us of the adventures we can take observing nature, its flora and fauna weaving itself between our city structures.

Michael Ismail, Owner, Thrive and Grow Gardens

A Whole Earth Catalog for our time, this book addresses all the important things: food, water, cookies, flowers, bees, and bicycles. Part practical guide, part personal diary, many parts gorgeous coffee table book, City Nature is for anyone looking to learn how to be a better steward of one’s own backyard, as well as a visual celebration of what grows from dirt when we take the time to nurture it. A must for the preservation of our dwindling resources, presented with positivity and clear instructions!

Carrie Seid, Artist and Creativity Consultant

With accessible prose, humor, and crystal clear photos, City Nature breathes life into Tucson’s water harvesting movement. A practical and stunningly beautiful guide for anyone interested in transforming their relationship with nature in the desert.

Eliza Stokes, Watershed Management Group

I enjoyed learning more about your chapter(s) and conducting the interview. You are a sensational speaker, a natural who connects with her audience and gets her messages across, to include your pauses and stresses.

Tony Paniagua, Reporter/Producer, Arizona Public Media

Meet Tucson resident Martha Retallick. She transformed her urban property into an oasis for native plants, insects, and birds, and now she’s sharing her photography and observations in a new book: City Nature.

NPR 89.1 “Arizona Spotlight,” April 27, 2023

Martha’s book shows how beautiful the landscaping around our homes and businesses can be with no additional cost for water and nominal investments in desert-adapted plants and rainwater storage.

Nick Shivka, Local First Arizona Blog, June 7, 2023

Amid ongoing news about Southwestern water scarcity, author Martha Retallick sees an opportunity. For nearly 20 years, she has been transforming her central Tucson home into an urban oasis. The secret to her success: water harvesting.

Natural Awakenings, June 2023

A big Thank You to Martha Retallick for a wonderful discussion this past Sunday. We had a good crowd and learned quite about water conversation in our desert environment.

University of Michigan Alumni Club of Tucson

Although Brent Hall laments that he’s stuck at home while other YouTubers are enjoying cooler climes, he concludes with a shout-out for City Nature.

Brent Hall, “I Didn’t Want to be Here,” YouTube video, June 27, 2023

Cool piece from Tucson, AZ FLCW, journalist, documentary photographer, and now-published author, Martha Retallick (with whom I had the pleasure to break bread a few years back on a trip out there). Not all of us aspire to write books but it’s a logical evolution for many, and she shares her experience in making the transition. Thanks, Martha, and best of luck with the book!

Peter Bowerman introducing Martha’s article in his Well-Fed E-Pub, July 6, 2023

Originally from Pennsylvania, [Martha] wanted her home to have that lush green feel. But it took quite some time to get to where she is today.

KOLD-TV 13, “Tucson woman creates water harvesting oasis, others eligible for rebate,” August 3, 2023

When Martha moved to Tucson, she wanted to plant a garden full of trees. But irrigating them posed a huge problem in her desert climate. Instead of spending tons of money on a full system, Martha opted to harvest from the “Big Watering Can In the Sky”.

The Beet: A Podcast for Plant Lovers, “The Rationale for Water Harvesting,” August 7, 2023

What is passive water harvesting? Martha outlines two methods of passively harvesting water in her garden. By slowing the water, allowing it to spread out, and sink down, she harnesses what would otherwise be urban runoff, and adds tons of free water to her garden in the process.

The Beet: A Podcast for Plant Lovers, “Passive Water Harvesting,” August 8, 2023

Rainwater cisterns are a great way to actively harvest and conserve water. Here, Kevin and Martha discuss the ins and outs of using cisterns, and the benefits that come with installing them in your yard.

The Beet: A Podcast for Plant Lovers, “How to Use Rainwater Cisterns,” August 9, 2023

There are many different kinds of greywater systems and ways to employ them in a garden. Martha uses greywater from her washing machine to water her fruit trees. She reaps other benefits, too, including financial incentives!

The Beet: A Podcast for Plant Lovers, “Greywater Systems,” August 10, 2023

Why harvest rainwater? In Martha’s garden, the harvesting process has afforded her a thriving, lush garden, and her book, City Nature.

The Beet: A Podcast for Plant Lovers, “Benefits of Water Harvesting,” August 11, 2023

In this podcast interview, we delve into the world of sustainable living with Martha Retallick, the brilliant author behind City Nature. Her new book not only enlightens us on the importance of water harvesting but also offers practical insights on implementing it in our lives. What sets City Nature apart is its unique origin as a true Arizona-born project. Unlike many publications, where elements are outsourced overseas, this book’s photography, writing, and design were all skillfully crafted right in the heart of Arizona. Join us as Martha Retallick shares her passion for conservation and her journey in creating this locally inspired masterpiece.

Finding Arizona Podcast,” September 16, 2023

Martha Retallick is a nature enthusiast, with the emphasis on “enthusiasm.” The fact that she lives in hot, arid Tucson does not prevent her from making the most of scarce rainwater to nurture her city lot’s flora and fauna and raise a thriving garden, as this beautiful book demonstrates.

Arizona Daily Star, “Southern Arizona Authors,” October 1, 2023

I am so pleased to introduce our customer and a truly incredible artist. Her book is astounding. Martha has done for nature photography what the Renaissance did for paint and stone.

Todd Lipscomb,, October 18, 2023

Martha Retallick turned learning how to operate her Nikon D850 camera into a gorgeous and informative coffee table book “City Nature.” Her passion for rainwater harvesting, birds, plants, and photography merge together beautifully in this book that includes tips, recipes, and community resources.

Heather Wuelpern, “Wander and Muse Podcast,” November 14, 2023

Martha has written a wonderful new book called City Nature. In the book she chronicles how she tackled the challenge of harvesting rainwater for her house and gardens — and created an oasis for birds.

Catherine Greenleaf, “Bird Hugger Podcast,” February 29, 2024

The book’s genuine awe and respect for nature is conveyed through prose and photography. Retallick writes that “urban nature is powerful—it can push grass right through asphalt roads and force trees up through the sidewalks.” Many of her photographs echo this tension: a curved-bill thrasher sits on a rusted fence, an assortment of homegrown fruit gathers in a stainless-steel bowl, and potted plants and vegetables grow alongside her house. Other photographs (as of a shy pomegranate bud just beginning to eke open or the dewdrops on a snow pea flower) showcase the natural delights possible in an urban garden.

Hannah Pearson, Foreward Clarion Reviews, April 18, 2024

Meet the Author

Martha Retallick. Photo © 2022 Julius Schlosburg.

Martha Retallick is an award-winning photographer, writer, and designer. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from the University of Michigan and has done additional coursework in graphic design and in building and construction technologies at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona.

Martha has freelanced as a commercial photographer, web and graphic designer, and business consultant. She has also worked on the editorial staffs of three different publications.

As a fine art photographer, Martha has hosted her own solo photography exhibitions and has been included in group shows at Tucson’s Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery & Workshop and the Tohono Chul botanical garden.

In addition, Martha volunteers as a citizen scientist through daily weather monitoring and as an undergraduate admissions interviewer for the University of Arizona Eller College of Management.

Order Now!

Don’t miss your opportunity to buy a first printing, first edition copy of City Nature. This printing will be limited to 450 hardcover books that are signed and numbered by the author.

COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Limited to 150 hardcover books)
$199.95 each

The Collector’s Edition features a signed and numbered hardcover book (1-150) in a black slipcase. This full-color hardcover book will have a Soft Touch cover with ultraviolet spot finish that makes the colors pop. This is a book that’s sure to stand out on your coffee table, and the slipcase will ensure protected storage when the book is shelved in your library.

PREMIUM EDITION (Limited to 300 hardcover books)
$99.95 each

The Premium Edition features a signed and numbered hardcover book (1-300). This full-color hardcover book will have a Soft Touch cover with ultraviolet spot finish that makes the colors pop. It will make a wonderful addition to your coffee table and your library.

Case Lots Also Available!

Want to purchase City Nature as a gift for your clients, donors, investors, family, or friends? Case lots are available!

COLLECTOR’S EDITION: $9,997.50 per case of 50 books

PREMIUM EDITION: $4,997.50 per case of 50 books

Notes for Case Lot Purchasers

Sales Taxation. If you’re purchasing within the City of Tucson, Pima County, or Arizona, sales tax will be added.

Shipping will be FOB Tucson, Arizona to your delivery address.

Free Delivery for cases shipped to addresses within the Tucson metropolitan area.

Free Bonuses! With each Collector’s Edition case of 50 books, you can choose 10 autographed fine art prints from the book. With each Premium Edition case of 50 books, you can choose 5 autographed fine art prints.

GET YOUR CASE ORDER STARTED! Call or text 520-690-1888 or send an email to

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