Each time I visit Arizona I discover another favorite venue. This time I found the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. The desert landscape calls to me. I love my lush green Wisconsin forests, I understand the vast Illinois prairies, I enjoy the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota but after 50+ years in the Midwest, the desert keeps calling me back. Every plant, animal, rock, and vista is a new discovery for me. What better place to learn about this landscape than the Desert Botanical Garden?
The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ was established in 1937. Its mission was and is:
“to exhibit, to conserve, to study, and to disseminate knowledge about the arid land plants of the world.”
With approximately 27,650 plants, representing more than 4,000 species from all over the world it looks like they are meeting that mission statement. I love museums/collections that focus beyond mere displays. Sure, the Desert Botanical Garden provides a serenely beautiful exhibition of the desert landscape, but the staff and volunteers contribute so much more to the community, region and world.
Botanical Gardens across the globe serve a greater purpose than just tourist attractions.
Of course conservation and environmentalism play a large role in current policy-making locally, regionally and globally . This has not always been the case throughout history. Thankfully forward thinking citizens stepped up to create safe spaces such as the Desert Botanical Garden. In the late 1930’s, with the Depression grinding on and a war looming in Europe, desert lovers such as Gustaf Starck and Gertrude Divine Webster recognized the need to preserve the flora.
- In the Garden today, plant life exits that was planted in those early years. This creeping devil cactus, planted in 1939 wends his spiky tentacles throughout the grounds.
- The iconic Saguaro cacti, unique to the Sonoran Desert can take up to 75 years to grow an arm. The have a possible lifespan of 100-150 years. While they seem limitless in the desert landscape, development over the last 75 years have threatened their ecosystems.
Over the years, conservation efforts at the Desert Botanical Garden have involved acquisition, cultivation, protection, research, and education for thousands of desert plants. These initiatives often overlap each other. The Desert Botanical Garden maintains and shares a vast scientific knowledge base.
Botanical research in the Desert Botanical Garden likely escapes the notice of most visitors. However, it is a vital role to the health of the Garden and sustainability of desert flora throughout the world. The Research, Conservation and Collections Dept consists of scientists from the fields of plant physiology, ethnobotany, ecology, and conservation biology. The incredible Schilling Library, houses more than 9,000 books and 500 journals that are accessed by botancial researchers worldwide. The library, research labs and herbarium provide information on such topics as:
- Desert gardening, landscaping and sustainable practices
- Rare and endangered plants
- Desert natural history, ecology and wildlife
- Plant evolution and taxonomy
- Ethnobotany (man’s uses and relationship with plants)
- Medicinal plants
- Botanical illustration and identification
The educational contributions of the Desert Botanical Garden take many forms.
One obvious educational approach is raising awareness. Beautifully designed exhibits with thorough signage teach even the casual visitors to the Gardens.
The Garden offers 5 distinct trail loops:
- People and Plants of the Sonoran Desert
- Sonoran Desert Nature Loop
- Center for Desert Living
- Desert Wildflower
- Desert Discovery
As a result of the years of dedicated staff, the Garden is proud to be recognized for their Cactus and Agave Collections. In addition, these collections gather rare and endangered species into protective care.
Desert Landscape School
- The Desert Botanical Garden offers a wide variety of basic home landscape design specific for the Sonoran Desert.
- They have certificate programs in specialized tracks for those seeking advanced training in the field of Landscape Design.
- Adult Education courses include gardening, photography, art, cooking, and earth sciences.
- Travel Adventures such as tours of Superstition Mountains, Montezuma Castle, Aravaipa Canyon and Kitt Peak Observatory especially intrigue me!
Early Childhood Programs
These are weekly programs for Toddlers that encourage movement and curiosity outdoors. Pre-schoolers learn to love the desert with stories, projects and nature walks.
Scout programs, classroom field trips and family activities are all available at the Garden.
Special Events at the Desert Botanical Garden
“We will ensure that the Garden is always a compelling attraction that brings to life the many wonders of the desert.” DBG Mission Statement
The responsibility to create a “compelling attraction” is taken very seriously at the Desert Botanical Garden. This is a concept that has evolved over the years into several very popular events at the Garden. Because of the summer heat, the Garden’s active season is actually through the cooler winter months.
- An example of a truly compelling event that has grown from one weekend in the 1970’s to 21 days in 2017 is the festive Las Noches de Las Luminarias. NOVEMBER 24, 2017 – DECEMBER 30, 2017
- Spring and Fall the Garden hosts The Mighty Monarchs, an opportunity for visitors to experience the migratory butterflies up close. SEPTEMBER 30, 2017 – NOVEMBER 19, 2017
- Chiles and Chocolate is an ideal recipe for a sweet and spicy weekend. Sample and shop your way through Arizona’s top chile and chocolate vendors. NOVEMBER 10, 2017 – NOVEMBER 12, 2017
- The Garden also hosts nights of music, outdoor dance performances and extraordinary art exhibitions.
Zen in the Desert
Finally, whether you are looking to feed your curiosity, create a desert garden, enjoy local flavors or simply spend a moment of zen in the quiet garden, the Desert Botanical Garden will exceed your expectations.