The title of this entry may at first seem like a mistake. “Perhaps he really meant ‘The Dessert Garden,’ which conjures up images of fruit trees.” Most people don’t associate gardens with deserts. By definition, deserts are empty places. They are barren, usually having sandy or rocky soil and little or no vegetation. When we say a place is deserted, we mean it is empty or uninhabited. By contrast, we often think of gardens as lush, green spaces teeming with life. Until I married someone who had lived for almost two decades in the Southwest, I didn’t think I would like spending much time in that region of the country. I don’t mind hot weather that much, especially if the humidity is low. But green is my favorite color, and I love gardening. Nothing grows in a desert, right?
Ridiculous. The desert is full of life, and the diversity of plant species is staggering. There are about 2,000 different kinds of cacti alone. The six cactus genera with the largest number of plants, and hence most likely to be encountered, are cereus, cylindropuntia, echinocereus, ferocactus, mammillaria and opuntia. In addition to cacti, there are grasses, shrubs, trees, and wildflowers. One of the best places to get a clear picture of the desert’s splendor is the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. With more than 4,000 species and approximately 27,650 individual plants, the Desert Botanical Garden is home to one of the world’s most spectacular living collections of the world’s desert plants.
We spent some time several years ago during a visit to Phoenix to wander through the Garden. Perhaps the most striking feature is the endless forms and shapes that the plants in the desert take. They have evolved over millions of years to take full advantage of the limited resources available, and water conservation dictates so much of the characteristics of desert flora. Flowers tend to be less numerous but so much more striking in color, shape, and size than those found in other environments. The Garden offers permanent trailside exhibits, temporary art exhibitions, and seasonal activities too.
Sometimes it’s difficult to look beyond the familiar and seek the undiscovered, and I certainly found that to be true about the desert. There’s green everywhere! I have visited the Southwest several times now, and I am always ready to return. It is wild, rugged, and even harsh, but it possesses a charm that can be found nowhere else in the country. The Desert Botanical Garden is not to be missed.