Arizona day 6—Phoenix: Cosanti, Desert Botanical Garden

This morning I visited Cosanti, the 5-acre studio complex and residence of visionary architect and artist Paolo Soleri located in what is now a fancy residential area of Scottsdale. As you may remember from yesterday’s post, Soleri is the man behind Arcosanti, the experimental desert community near Prescott.

Soleri bought the land that would become Cosanti in 1955 and soon thereafter began to build the first earth-cast concrete structures. Soleri’s architectural philosophy was one of frugality: using the cheapest materials and simplest methods possible. Many of the structures began as shaped mounds of earth upon which a thin (typically 3-inch) layer of concrete was poured. When the concrete was fully hardened, the soil underneath the concrete “roof” was dug away, resulting in a structure that is partially or wholly underground.


Cosanti Gallery Courtyard

As I entered the Cosanti complex, my first impression was this: the hobbit-holes in the Lord of the Rings transported to an alien planet that vaguely resembles Earth. I felt like a little kid exploring something totally new and exciting. I hope the photos below give you an idea of how strange and exhilarating Cosanti is. (Paolo Soleri, by the way, lived at Cosanti until his death in April 2013.)


Gallery Courtyard

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Gallery interior (left) and Ceramics Studio (right)


Barrel Vault


Planter built into the concrete retaining wall

As I mentioned yesterday, financing for Arcosanti comes from the sale of ceramic and bronze wind bells made both at Arcosanti and at Cosanti. Soleri began making wind bells even before he built Cosanti; today this is a thriving business, and the one-of-a-kind custom assemblies are in high demand by well-heeled collectors worldwide (they cost anywhere from $2,000 to $25,000). Fortunately, the foundry also makes a large selection of much more affordable wind bells (check out their web site to see typical designs).

I was there at the right time to watch a pour:


Bronze wind bells being poured


My favorite wind bell design

At noon I finally tore myself away from Cosanti and headed back to the Desert Botanical Garden for a final visit.

At $22, admission isn’t cheap, but if you’re a member of a public garden that participates in the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal Admission Program, you get in for free. Being a member of the Ruth Bancroft Garden and the UC Davis Arboretum (either membership would have qualified for free admission), I was able to save quite a bit of money.



The weather was sunny today with nary a cloud in the sky. I opted to leave my jacket in the car and walk around in a short-sleeved T-shirt. This was fine in the sun, but in the shade I did get a bit chilly. Not surprising because in spite of the bright sun the daytime high was only 55°F. Last night, even protected valley locations were close to freezing; when I got in the car at 7:30am this morning, there was frost on the windshield. Needless to say the rental car company had not provided me with an ice scraper so I had to let the car idle until the ice was melted.

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This afternoon I walked through the garden in a counter-clockwise direction, and I ended up finding side loops I had missed last Sunday. I photographed many of the same plants as before, but I’m much happier with today’s pictures. It’ll be a few weeks before I’ve finished going through the 1000+ photos from the Desert Botanical Garden, but I know there will be at least three separate posts: a general overview, a post about agaves (what else!), and one about Noches de las luminarias.







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I have to give big kudos to the volunteer docents at the DBG. There are so many of them, you never have to go far to find somebody who can answer your questions. In addition, I really appreciated the many water fountains throughout the garden. While I recommend you bring your own water, you won’t die of thirst if you forget. Visiting in the winter as I did, it’s easy to forget that summers are brutal here, with heat stroke being a real threat.

When the Desert Botanical Garden closed at 4pm it was time to leave. Even though the Phoenix airport—imaginatively named Sky Harbor—is only 6 miles away, it took me the better part of half an hour to get there. The traffic was horrible, even worse than yesterday. I have a feeling Phoenix residents are no strangers to freeway gridlock.

I feel sad that my week in Arizona is over, but I have a wealth of memories, thousands of photos, and my plants to sustain me through the winter. Speaking of plants: I shipped my purchases via FedEx Ground this morning; they should arrive on Tuesday. Shipping was only $17 for a large box that weighed close to 18 pounds. That sure beats trying to cram plants into a suitcase!


Arizona 2013 trip index


  1. Casanti is fascinating. Neat to get to see a bell pour! Welcome home!!

  2. You will be doing a post on what you purchased, I hope?

  3. Can't wait to see the rest of your photos and your purchases.

    1. There is plenty more to come. Right now, I wish I were back in Arizona. It's too cold here!

  4. Your photos are amazing, thoroughly enjoyable to look at and are sources of inspiration. Isn't it nice to be able to go back to one of your favourite places and discover pathways and routes you missed out on your first visit?

  5. Cosanti looks interesting! I wondered for a second what those beekeepers were doing to those little hives -- I have to stop reading these posts as soon as I wake up!

  6. I went to college at ASU nearby Cosanti and visited there many many times during my time there. It certainly looks different now than it did in 1967.


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