Desert Botanical Garden, December 2016 (part 1 of 3)

◀ Part 1     ↔     Part 2

The Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) in Phoenix is one of my favorite plant places in the world. It comes as no surprise that it was one of the highlights of my Arizona trip last week – a trip that was not lacking in astonishing sights. Since the DBG was the first destination I visited, I want to feature it first in my in-depth coverage of all the marvelous things I saw in Phoenix and Tucson.

Desert Towers by Dale Chihuly at the entrance to the Desert Botanical Garden. Notice how the glass sculptures mirror the shape of the yuccas growing next to them.
This post focuses on the Entry Garden, the Desert Terrace Garden and the Desert Portal (click here for a map). The other two posts will cover the Cactus and Succulent Galleries, the Agave Yucca Forest, the Webster Center and Ullman Terrace, the Heritage Garden, and the Center for Desert Living Trail. Because of time constraints, I skipped the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail and the Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail this year.

In contrast to previous years, the DBG didn't have a special exhibition in 2016. I was a bit disappointed because the Dale Chihuly exhibition in 2013 and Bruce Munro's installation Sonoran Light in 2015 were unforgettable. Still, even without anything extra, the remarkable plants growing at the DBG, together with the hardscape that is constantly being refined, are reward enough.

Cactus-like euphorbia at the entrance

Agave bovicornuta 

Potted plantings near the entrance

More potted plantings, including Aloidendron 'Hercules' on the left and a monstrose Cereus on the right

Backlit opuntias and hairawn muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)

These backlit cactus looked particularly stunning against the muhly grass

Tedddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)

More cholla goodness

Backlit opuntias and barrel cactus

Trying to include more people in my photos to give them context (sorry, strangers)

Formal beds in the Ottosen Entry Garden

Agave bovicornuta outside the gift shop, several of them pushing flower stalks

NOID agave in the entry garden

To my eyes, the most beautiful of all desert trees: palo blanco (Mariosousa willardiana, formerly Acadia willardiana). It's native to Sonora, Mexico. A bit on the tender side, so it's often planted against structures.

Palo blanco (Mariosousa willardiana

Agave americana 'Marginata' and ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)

Agave americana 'Marginata' and Yucca rostrata

Backlit Ferocactus sp.

Backlit barrel cactus and chollas

Red teddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia × campii) and Yucca rigida

Golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii)

Trunked Agave attentuata, definitely not a common sight in Phoenix. This agave species likes a much more moderate climate.

Opuntia macrocentra

NOID cycad

Palo verde and mass plantings of smaller cactus

Happy Holidays!

Ferocactus glaucescens

Look at the impeccable stone work in the Desert Terrace Garden. I want this wall in my own garden!

Good to know the DBG has a plant aquisition and salvage fund

I have no idea what this attrative potted cactus is

Very blue form of banana yucca (Yucca baccata)

Potted agaves in the Desert Terrace Garden

One of many new boojum trees (Fouquieria columnaris) installed in recent years. Fouquieria columnaris is one of the signature plants of the Baja California peninsula.

Jan and Tom Lewis Desert Portal

Flowering aloes at the Desert Portal

Like what you've seen so far? There's much more to come.



  1. So pretty, thanks for sharing! That red teddy bear cholla caught my eye in particular.

  2. All those back lit photos of cactus; chollas, Ferocactus, etc are just STUNNING! And those Acacia willardíana are to die for, but I know better than attempting them here; a mismatch of climate no doubt. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, David!

      I actually have a palo blanco in the front yard but this is only it's first year. So far so good. There's a larger one at the Ruth Bancroft Garden and it looks just fine. But Berkeley may not get enough heat for it to thrive.

  3. I love all the back-lit photos - you timed your visit well. This garden utilizes its Chihuly glass specimens better than any other I've seen.

  4. As I recall I have several images of that very blue Yucca baccata as well. I walked by it a few times in my travels that day and it always called out to me. I plan to buy a couple more this spring. So how did you feel about all the luminaria bags around the garden? Were they distracting?

    1. The Yucca baccata I have from Cistus ('Hualampai Blue') is just as blue. You should get that.

      The luminaria bags have been there on all of my previous visits and for the most part I just tune them out. I did move a few this time for a photo but I moved them right back when I was done. So no, they don't really bother me.


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