Potted perfection at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

An after-Christmas road trip to Arizona seems to have become a tradition for me. And part of the tradition is a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) west of Tucson. You'd think I'd get tired of it, but it's like catching up with a good friend: many things are the same, but there's always something new and surprising.

I'll have separate posts on the Cactus Garden and the Agave Garden at the ASDM, the latter having undergone a complete overhaul in the last few years. This post focuses on the plantings at the cluster of buildings in the northeast corner of the park: the Ironwood Art Gallery, Ironwood Terraces Restaurant, and Baldwin Education Building. The stucco walls are a great backdrop for potted specimens, as you will see below. The landscaping here is a great match for the contemporary architecture of the buildings. If I had a house in Tucson, I'd be tempted to simply recreate this design. It's simple, clean, and cool.

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) against the gray stucco exterior of the Baldwin Education Building

Palo blanco (Mariosousa willardiana)

Fouquieria sp.

Baja elephant bush (Pachycormus discolor)

I'm not entirely sure what this is growing in a boat-shaped steel planter outside the Baldwin Education Building, but it might be beargrass or sacahuista (Nolina microcarpa)

Totem pole cactus (monstrose form of Lophocereus schottii)

I'm not going to guess which cactus this is; let's just call it “tall and columnar”

Lady slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)

This my kind of wildlife: it holds still and doesn't run away

This gives me rock envy!

Great combo: Euphorbia resinifera, Astrophytum ornatum, Fouquieria splendens

The flowering shrub is purple nightshade (Solanum xanti)

Rock fig (Ficus petiolaris), beautifully staged in a large shallow bowl

Bursera microphylla is one of the signature shrubs of the Sonoran Desert. It looks awesome as a bonsai.

Pachycormus discolor, a cashew relative from Baja California, makes another great bonsai specimen

Strawberry hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus brandegeei). What's not to like about a super spiky cactus like this! I like the Spanish name: casa de rata (rat house). I wonder if rats really do take up residence in a clump like this...

I'd love to find large shallow planting bowls like the ones above. If anybody has a source, please let me know.


December 2019 Arizona trip index

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  1. Replies
    1. A great way of cultivating shrubs you don't have room for in the ground.

  2. My photo of the totem pole cactus here has become one of my most stolen and reposted photos. I've seen it on a few other folks Instagram accounts, sometimes with attribution, sometimes without.

    1. Seriously?!? That's so aggravating--but it also confirms how special this combo is.

  3. Love the iron boar. These plants are beautiful and lend themselves to simple design that is minimal yet elegant.

  4. The bowls really show off the bonsai-like shapes of the cacti. Have seen similar, but large, ones at places that sell cement products. You could make your own using a Portland cement mix and a mold (fake hypertufa).

    1. That's a great idea. It would be so much cheaper to make them yourself. Will look for a mold large enough...

  5. That Lophocereus schottii is perfection. Made me sigh. Ditto the blue rock.


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