Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden in Arizona
Desert plants encompass an incredible swath of diversity, from the iconic giant saguaros of the American Southwest to spiky aloes and agaves to short-lived but visually stunning wildflowers. Trying to fit them all into one place would be an exercise in futility, but the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, has made a decent success of just such an attempt.
About the Garden
Founded in 1939, the 145-acre park is popular with locals and tourists alike for its airy setting, educational displays and programs, abundant and varied vegetation. Succulents like cacti and agaves share space with desert-adapted bushes, trees, and flowers and herbs. Plants native to the Sonoran Desert—where Phoenix is located—play a starring role in the garden, which also houses representatives from arid habitats the world over. Visitors can expect to see desert wildlife, too: birds, lizards, butterflies, even coyotes can be glimpsed here, especially in the early morning and at dusk. (Thankfully, no rattlesnakes have been seen in the Desert Botanical Garden for decades.)
Trails and Paths
An array of paths, both paved and unpaved, wend their way through the garden. Highlights include:
The Desert Wildflower Loop Trail and Herb Garden, which are best viewed in March and April, after the winter rains.
The partially shaded Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail, which offers a welcome respite from sweltering summer temperatures while providing information on the rich cultural history of the desert Southwest.
The Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail, a short hike up which takes one past dozen of stately organ pipe cacti and yields vistas of the Phoenix metropolitan area and the valley’s surrounding mountains.
Visitors can take shelter from the sun in the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion (open seasonally), indoor art galleries, and, of course, the café and gift shop.
Programs and Events
The Desert Botanical Garden features shifting exhibits of paintings, photography, and sculpture throughout the year. Prominent among these are the outsize sculptures placed in the midst of the garden’s vibrant plants and wildflowers; recent exhibitions include works by the renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly and David Rogers’ enormous wooden bugs.
Nightlife events also pepper the garden’s calendar. During the summer, volunteers staff educational booths on local flora and fauna for evening Flashlight Tours. Las Noches de las Luminarias, held through much of December, is an especially popular series, with food, live music, and more than 8,000 candle luminaria bags lighting the paths. Other events, from concerts and dances to wine tastings, are held frequently throughout the year.
The garden also offers classes for children and adults. Topics range from photography and art techniques to desert gardening to cooking with native foods. Staff members also organize day or overnight trips to other Arizona destinations of interest.
What to bring
Temperatures in Phoenix can soar above 110 F in midsummer, and it’s not unusual to reach highs in the 90’s as late as November. Water fountains are dispersed around the park, but it’s wise to bring your own reusable bottle as well (other beverages and food are not allowed outside the café). Wear shoes that will be comfortable on rocky, packed dirt paths. Sunscreen is a must. And, of course, don’t forget the camera!
As of this writing, prices are as follows:
Seniors (age 60 and up): $15
Students (age 13-18): $10
Children (age 3-12): $8
Children under 3: free
Audio tours and entry to the Butterfly Pavilion (when open) are extra. Annual memberships start at $65. Admission to the garden is waived on the second Tuesday of the month from 1 to 8 p.m.
The Desert Botanical Garden is located at 1201 N Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85008. Please consider carpooling, biking, or taking public transit to reduce emissions. This video gives information on using Valley Metro buses to get to the garden.