Friday, January 9, 2015

Moorten Botanical Garden, Palm Springs, CA

Moorten Botanical Garden in Palm Springs, CA is something quite rare: a privately owned botanical garden. Most are either public or run by non-profit foundations. Even more amazing: Moorten Botanical Garden has been around, and in the same family, since 1938 – that’s 77 years. If nothing else, that level of persistence and perseverance deserves kudos!

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The garden is the legacy of Chester Moorten, who came to Palm Springs in the 1930s because of his health, and his wife Patricia, a biologist interested in desert plants. Nicknamed “Slim” because of his skinny build, Chester had been one of the Keystone Kops and had Hollywood contacts. The Moortens were friends with Walt Disney, who had property in Palm Springs, and did landscape design for the likes of Frank Sinatra.

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Avid collectors, the Moortens went on plant-hunting trips as far south as Guatemala and eventually opened their property as a botanical garden in 1938.
 

Today, the 1-acre garden contains over 3,000 varieties of desert plants from all over the world, arranged in geographic sections such as Sonoran Desert Region, Mojave Desert Region, Central Mexico Region, Texas Desert Region, etc. Many plants are labeled with handwritten signs made of flagstone or wood.

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The pale blue color of this new arm is amazing

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Octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

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Slipper plant (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) was the “signature plant” of this trip, a) because it seemed to be everywhere I went, and b) because I finally found one for purchase

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I’d never heard of Agave titanota being referred to as “Blue Rose,” but the name makes sense

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I’m including this photo because the building you see in the background between the two opuntias is the Vagabond Inn where I spent the night. Reasonable, clean, and conveniently located—within easy walking distance of Moorten Botanical Garden

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Epiphytic cactus

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I loved the hand-written signs

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There should be a sign here saying…

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“Sit at your own risk”

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Splendid specimen of Agave xylonacantha

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Agave xylonacantha

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This could have been a set on the old TV show Bonanza

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Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’

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The same Agave vilmoriniana you saw earlier, looking like a large alien spider

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Agave sisalana

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…supposedly the best agave for sisal fiber used for rope and twine

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Agaves and golden barrel cactus

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The “World’s First Cactarium” wasn’t quite as grand as the name suggested

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But there were some nice specimens

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If not nice, then at least interesting, like this Deuterocohnia brevifolia with dieback on top…

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…or this Welwitschia mirabilis, which is both extremely odd and quite rare in cultivation

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There even is a small meditation garden with a mining town/frontier feel

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The “Cactus Castle” built in 1929

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I would have loved to see the inside of the house but it’s off limits to visitors

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This stone bench may be simple, but I liked it for that very reason

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Looking back at the house

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African section

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Aloidendron dichotomus (formerly Aloe dichotoma)

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Take a look at this tree, then guess what it is

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Amazingly, it’s a Euphorbia tirucalli, i.e. the all-green version of the popular ‘Sticks on Fire’ so many of you have in your own garden. Yes, over time and in the right climate it can grow into a tree!

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Yucca gloriosa, or more likely Yucca elephantipes

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Agave sisalana ‘Variegata’, a common sight on this trip

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Old wagon wheels and a nice-sized elephant bush (Portulacaria afra)

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Mining relics and Agave sisalana

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Larger plants for sale (1-5 gallon)

A small retail area next to the entrance sells containers, gifts and a selection of plants.

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Small agave starts—I think they’re Agave sisalana, not tequilana, but I can’t swear to it

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Small nursery area on the left

Moorten Botanical Garden is small—tiny, really, as far as botanical gardens go—and clearly a labor of love. Some things aren’t kept up as well as they could, but I don’t imagine they have a large staff at their disposal. As I said earlier, I have the utmost respect for the Moorten family for having hung onto Chester and Patricia’s legacy for almost eight decades. That’s quite an achievement.

I greatly enjoyed my visit and I was encouraged by the steady stream of visitors that Sunday morning.

Moorten Botanical Garden is located at the southern end of Palm Canyon Drive. Admission is a very reasonable $4 for adults. For more information, visit their web site.

RELATED POST:

2014 Desert Trip index

13 comments:

  1. I will visit here someday, the charm factor is huge.

    Bonanza had agaves?

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    1. On second thought, Bonanza probably didn't have agaves since it was set near Virginia City, NV east of Lake Tahoe. But it *should* have!

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  2. The 'private garden' side of it still reverberates - intimate and personal, gorgeous! The photo of the bench made me laugh - sit at your own risk indeed!

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    1. Yes, it very much looks like it could still be somebody's private space. If I lived in a desert city, I'd probably have a garden very similar to that (minus all the mining equipment and wagon wheels).

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  3. I had no idea that E. tirucalli could do that! That's amazing. What a great visit.

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    1. I'd never seen an E. tirucalli tree before either. It's in a fairly protected position near the house, which clearly helps on cold nights.

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  4. Very 20's through 50's California--"going for a drive to the desert" was a huge thing back then--everyone did it. To visit home made little places like this. A lack of traffic made it easy and a great pleasure. Not any more, unfortunately. The seniors in our neighborhood when I was a small child had gardens with all sorts of stuff they'd brought back--petrified wood specimens, plants, desert tortoises (that bit not so good--though the tortoises seemed to lead luxuriant lives).

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    1. I don't typically pine for the "olden days," but I wish I could have experienced that sense of discovery people must have been felt when they made the trek out into the desert back then. What an adventure! Now we zoom through on the Interstate in our air-conditioned and sound-insulated cars, completely isolated from the environment outside.

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  5. Another one i want to visit. Looks very interesting. Love the bench idea with the sign.

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    1. You need to go on a desert road trip. It's that simple!

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  6. Thanks for the tour! I visited the garden 10 or more years ago but didn't recall the back story or the Moorten family house, which is wonderful in that setting.

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  7. Wow that sticks on fire tree is incredible. I had no idea! What a treasure that place is. Thanks for the tour!

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  8. Cool stuff! My favorite is the bench overtaken with spines haha :)

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