John Harlow was born in Rutland, Vermont on 4 April 1905. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1928, he attended Massachusetts State College and Iowa State College, studying landscape architecture, before establishing a practice in 1932. In 1938, Harlow moved from Duluth, Minnesota to Tucson with his wife Mary Louise, to found and operate Harlow Landscape Associates, specializing in Landscape Planning.
Harlow established offices at 89 East Alameda Street, at the J. M. Hill Governor’s Corner on Court Street. This building also housed Priscilla Pierce’s Print Room, the interior design officer of Peter Rooke-Ley, and the Gerry Peirce school of watercolor painting and etching.
During WWII, Harlow worked for Consolidated‑Vultee Aircraft Corporation.
By 1945, the firm had expanded into construction. In October 1945, Harlow worked with the Catalina Council of Boy Scouts of America to develop plans for the preservation of the ruins of the Fort Lowell. The plan was part of an early historic preservation initiative intended to protect the Fort and create a museum.
In the mid 1940s, R. A. Wilber worked for the firm as a Junior Associate, to be replaced in 1946 by James F. Hostetter, who was also appointed the City of Tucson Landscape Architect.
Catering to the post WWII housing boom, the firm began emphasizing patios, paved terraces, and garden pools.
Harlow was a member of Tucson’s creative class, serving as a committee member of the Tucson Independent Artist Group in 1949,by which time he had opened Harlow Nursery and Flowers at 3815 Broadway Boulevard, with a second location at 5620 East Pima by 1953. During the early 1950s he was the exclusive Tucson supplier of the Phoenix‑based Borst Wilbert Vault Precast concrete Pat-T-O Wall.
In 1951 Harlow worked on the Broadmoor Neighborhood, a post‑WWII subdivision southwest of Country Club and Broadway, to develop a cooperative tree planting project.
Harlow created traditional and modern landscapes for the arid Sonoran desert climate. A leader in southern Arizona landscape design, Harlow experimented with traditional plant pallets in the desert environment. During the early 1950s, he conducted experiments with 11‑year grasses in an attempt to reach a perennial variety, publicly reporting his results.
In 1951 Harlow began writing an influential weekly column for the Tucson Daily Citizen Home Section: Garden in the Desert and The Week‑End Gardener, focusing on best gardening practices in the arid desert climate of Southern Arizona.
The articles provided advice, tracked trends, and guided the public, with titles including: “Impatient Gardeners Should Plant Now’,” “Tucsonians Should Help Make Desert Bloom,” “Bermuda Lawns Require Hot Weather, Much Water,” “Many Ground Covers Can Supplement Lawn,” “History Shows Year‑Around Lawn is Tucson Possibility,” “Many Tucson Plants are Developing Root Rot,” “The Rains Come-And Things Grow‑Even Weeds,” “Eight Experimental Lawns Planted this Summer,” “Harlow’s Problems Those of Average Homeowner,” “Utility is most important in Designing your Patio,” “Take Necessary Steps When Collecting Cactus,” “Cactus Should not be Planted as a Cure‑All”
His articles would often highlight his own experiences from his home and garden where he lived with his wife and family in mid‑town Tucson at 3838 Calle Ensenada.
The weekly articles, written through 1974, influenced Tucson’s entire post‑WWII development era. Harlow’s writing was based on practical experience in the arid Southern Arizona climate. In 1958, he was awarded the Dorothy Dawe national honor award with the Tucson Citizen team for the Weekly Home Publication.
In addition to his writings, Harlow was a frequent guest on local television. Starting in 1951, he appeared on the local KOPO CBS program “Let’s Build a Home,” and in 1953, he was the featured host on “This is the Life ‑‑ Gardening tips from John Harlow.”
Harlow was often a guest lecturer and speaker at the Tucson Garden Club, discussing topics like “Home Landscape Planning Problems,” and “Design in Plantings for Small Homes.” He illustrated his talks with pictures of local lawns and his design projects. Continuously throughout his career, he presented for groups such as La Sierra Garden Club on landscaping and the Trowel and Glove Garden Club on planting and care of roses.
Harlow was highly respected by both the local and national landscape professionals. In 1957, Eric Johnson, garden editor of the Southwest edition of Sunset Magazine, and Guy S. Greene of the American Society of Landscape Architects, presented a talk in Tucson titled “Southwest Gardens,” highlighting the work of John Harlow, James Hostetter, Folkner and Greene ‑‑ all Tucson landscape architects.
Harlow was a respected member of the Tucson community and served in numerous leadership positions. In the early 1951, he was appointed a charter member of the Pima County Parks and Recreation Advisory Council. He served as treasurer of the Better Business Bureau, was chairman of the County Planning and Zoning Commission from 1958 through 1973, and was a member of the Tucson Community Center Commission, the city’s Architectural Review Board, and the Board of Visitors at the Arizona‑Sonoran Desert Museum.
He was also a member and served as the president of the Dartmouth Club of Tucson, the Kappa Kappa Gamma Alumnae association, president of the Southern Arizona Hiking Club, president of the Tucson and Arizona Nurserymen’s Association, and was a member of the Tucson Rotary Club.
In 1946, Harlow was part of a group who lead the discussion in Tucson to develop building regulations, serving on the board of the Tucson Regional Plan, Inc. with architects: Arthur T. Brown, Marett Starkweather, Gordon M. Luepke, artist Dale Nichols, and local leaders including Albert Ronstadt, Harold Steinfeld, Alex Jacome, H.H. d’Autremont, and Emil W. Haury, Harlow served as chairman of the El Montevideo Neighborhood Association, and represented the organization in an attempt to become an incorporated village, an effort to create zoning regulation.
In 1967, Harlow lost an election for a seat on the Tucson city council by 5 votes.
On 12 May 1974, at the age of 69, John M. Harlow died of cancer, leaving a legacy of progressive modern landscape architecture in Tucson.
1945 Preservation and Landscape Plan, Fort Lowell, Tucson.
1945 Landscape Courtyard Design. Alfred Messner Interiors Design Studios at 47 West Alameda, redesigned by Arthur T. Brown, architect.
1947 Landscape Design. El Siglo Veterans Housing Development Alvernon Way and Haynes Street. William Wilde, architect.
1947 Landscape Design. Harold Ashton Building Company Model Home.
2216 East Waverly Street, Gordon Luepke, architect.
1949 Landscape Design. Margaret Sanger Slee Houses, Catalina Visit, Tucson. Arthur T. Brown, architect
1950 Landscape Design. Peter Howell Elementary School, Tucson Boulevard.