The Desert Botanical Gardens, tucked away among the beautiful buttes of Papago Park and just down the road from the Phoenix Zoo, is one of my favorite places in Phoenix. In general, botanical gardens are something that I enjoy visiting (so far I have been to botanical gardens in Brazil, New Zealand, Kauai, Maui, and Ireland among others). Each of them has their own appeal, and I have enjoyed every one, but the Desert Botanical Garden really stands out among them all.
Its focus on desert species is fairly unique, and the permanent displays are informative and beautiful. They have several areas devoted to Arizona species, and their showcases of non-native species are perfectly juxtaposed to illustrate parallel evolution and similarly adapted species. One of my favorite spots for this is their aloe and agave garden. Furthermore, they have information on sustainable living throughout the park, with a trail devoted to desert living, as well as information on growing and caring for native plant species.
My personal favorite section of the park is the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail. This trail has been designed to envelope visitors in several different plant communities of the Sonoran desert including grasslands, mesquite bosque, and a beautiful little wetland. It also has traditional Native American structures from a variety of tribes, which are not only beautiful in their own right, but instructive as well.
The botanical garden is a wonderful place to visit throughout the year, but they also have several different events that they host which make a visit even more attractive. They have a yearly butterfly exhibit, and cultural festivals (such as those for El Dia de los Muertos). This year, they also hosted Chihuly in the Desert, which showcased Chihuly’s glasswork throughout the garden. Although this made the park a bit crowded, it was well worth the trip, as the pieces were not only lovely, but their placement among the desert plants was inspiring as well.
Even more fanciful, however, was their Noches de las Luminarias this year. The trails of the garden were lined with hundreds of luminaries, which made for a very romantic, peaceful atmosphere. Along side the luminaries, Chihuly’s work was lit up as well, making for an almost surreal experience that reminded me of the bioluminescent science fiction world. Amid the trails of glowing glass and flickering candles were a variety of live bands ranging from mariachis to Native American flute players.