During late April’s Historic Garden Week, Virginians have just cause to believe our spring is the finest in all the land. As we gush over the tulips, peonies, viburnum, hydrangeas, azaleas, rhododendron and boxwood, we can hardly imagine spring bursting forth in such a flowery display anywhere else, especially in the drought-ridden desert southwest. A recent trip to Phoenix, however, has left me appreciating the beauty of springtime in the desert and its own flowering show.
Phoenix was a last-minute trip in March when our family’s beloved Carolina teams, the Tarheels of North Carolina and the Gamecocks of South Carolina, punched their tickets to the Final Four. In between treks to the stadium in Glendale, LDB and I filled our time marveling at springtime in Phoenix. At the top of my must-see list was the Desert Botanical Garden.
Although I spent seven idyllic years as a child in Phoenix, I was too young to remember anything blooming anywhere. My botanical recollection of Phoenix was the Saguaro cactus and the Royal Palm tree. A visit to the DBG quickly corrected my childhood memory; the desert offers unexpected springtime beauty.
The sparkling Chihuly yucca sculptures planted at the entrance of the garden signaled this was a special garden indeed.
Dale Chihuly’s Desert Towers
The Desert Botanical Garden not only carries specimens native to Arizona, but cacti from all over the world. I took so many pictures I drained the battery on my phone and had to switch to LDB‘s to finish. Take a look at the highlights with me. Fear not, I won’t show-and-tell all of those photos today.
Springtime Blooms in the Desert
Who knew? Blooming bougainvillea
and the lush Palo Verde tree
pervade the landscape in Phoenix and the DBG, throwing all kinds of brilliant color to decorate the otherwise brownish landscape.
echinopsis candicans, commonly called Argentine Giant
the sculptural Desert Rose about to bloom (above) and in bloom (below)
The garden’s logo centers on the agave, an important plant to the settlers of the desert southwest for at least 4000 years. As beautiful as it is practical, agave juice is used to make tequila as does agave nectar, the alternative sweetener. Its fibrous leaves when dried were used to make tools, baskets and brooms. A baked agave heart can be eaten, tasting a bit sweet with a mushy texture.
Desert Botanical Garden logo
Cactus: the Bold, the Beautiful and the Creepy
The mighty Saguaro (pronounced suh – war – oh) cactus is native to the Sonoran Desert, where Phoenix is located. Its bold silhouette symbolizes the desert southwest.
Organ Pipe Cactus
When I think of cactus, the word beautiful doesn’t come to mind immediately. Prickly tops that list. However, the specimens of cactus we saw truly changed my mind.
Stapelia commonly called star flower
Queen Victoria Agave
Some might call the following cacti unusual, but I say they are a bit creepy.
Silver Torch cactus
Crested Whortleberry Cactus
Man-made Beauty in the Garden
The garden integrates man-made sculpture and hardscape seamlessly, adding rather than distracting from its landscape design.
sculpture by Carolina Escobar
iron Saguaro sculpture by Jeff Hebets
Tips for Visiting the Desert Botanical Garden
- Plan your visit for at least a half a day, if not more. You can see a lot in a short period of time, but you’ll regret rushing it if you don’t have to.
- Go in the morning when it’s cooler.
- Bring water and hydrate often.
- Ask the docents when their talks are scheduled. These knowledgeable volunteers love the garden and willingly share their passion for it, explaining all the curiosities found in the Sonoran Desert.
The trip to Phoenix proved that Spring does bloom in the desert. How serendipitous that our Final Four trip coincided with the blooming brilliance at the garden. Reasons to visit Phoenix are numerous, but I would put the Desert Botanical Garden at the top of the list.
May 10, 2017