Colorful plastic animals at the Desert Botanical Garden

Question: What did you see at the Desert Botanical Garden?
Answer: Colorful plastic animals.
Question: Colorful plastic animals?
Answer: Colorful plastic animals.

Yes, indeed. Expect to see lots of colorful plastic animals if you visit the Desert Botanical Gardens (DBG) in Phoenix, AZ between now and May 10, 2020. Depending on how you feel about such things—whether you like art in gardens, how you define art, and what your general preferences are—you may do a happy dance, you may shake your head in disbelief or resignation, or you may actively cuss in disgust.

As a public service, here are lots of photos of lots of colorful plastic animals from my visit to the DBG in late December.

Arguably, the DBG's entrance ramada—usually a dull spot in a garden that's anything but dull— has never looked this lively

Lest you think a giant plane carrying a delivery of plastic toys from a factory in China accidentally disgorged its cargo over the Desert Botanical Garden, let me assure you there was no mishap in the air space above Phoenix. Everything you see is exactly as intended. 

The animals, over 1000 of them, are part of “Wild Rising,” a colorful, fun, and highly photogenic exhibit that is as playful as it is thought-provoking—or should I say provocative? Created by Italian art collective Cracking Art, this experience consists of 12 installations throughout the garden and aims to “capture the beauty of the surrounding nature, but also confront questions of sustainability and environmental preservation, including climate change, the problem of plastic in the oceans, and the importance of recycling.”

The joke I was making about plastic toys from China falling out of the belly of a plane is not that far off the mark, considering so much of what we use is made in factories half a world away and transported over enormous distances—all at tremendous environmental cost. This is an issue of vital importance that affects all of us and must be addressed with urgency. 

Yet whether visitors to a botanical garden want to face it in a place that's supposed to be a refuge from everyday life, that is a different matter. I suppose good arguments could be made for either side. Personally, I'm good at tuning out things I don't want to be bothered with, so I wasn't irritated by all these colorful critters. In fact, after initially shaking my head in disbelief, I ended up getting a kick out of them. They really are quite cute!

But see for yourself. You might end up liking them. Or you might not. You'll have a reaction either way. And that's what the creators of “Wild Rising” want—like any artist.

Dale Chihuly glass sculptures and plastic meerkats—a combination that might drive some people I know over the edge :-)

Fake meerkats vs. real cat

Aloidendron 'Hercules'

Aloidendron 'Hercules' with flowers

Aloidendron dichotomum

Aloe fosteri

Aloe aculeata

Variegated banana yucca (Yucca baccata 'Variegata')

Agave macroacantha

New mass planting of Agave salmiana

Enough already? 

Don't worry, we're back at the entrance/exit:

Admit it, the meerkats are adorable!

Requisite selfie:

I'll be back at the Desert Botanical Garden this coming week for their big spring plant sale. I've been wanting to go for a long time, and this year I'm finally able to make it happen. I'll be flying to maximize my time; a friend of mine, potter extraordinaire Keith Kitoi Taylor, will be a vendor at the sale, and he's graciously agreed to haul my crap treasures home with him. Keith doesn't know yet that I'm actively looking at Craigslist ads for petrified wood!

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  1. Sometimes it's good to be reminded not to take the garden and ourselves too seriously. I like the quirkiness of it all.

    1. Well said. That's pretty much how I felt by the end of my visit. But if this had been my first visit and all I expected to see were desert plants, it would have been different.

  2. You provided a glance at these animals earlier but I'd no idea the display was SO extensive. I actually like them better than I thought I would, perhaps because a dose of lighthearted fun is very much needed at the moment. I'm particularly fond of the frogs and the fish. And, if an exhibit like this brings children and parents who might not otherwise visit the garden, I'm 100% on board. Our local botanic garden's COO came from the DBG so perhaps we'll be seeing something on this order someday.

    1. I imagine all large-scale exhibits like this are polarizing. I knew the Chihuly exhibit at the DBG definitely was. On the other hand, they do bring in people that might not otherwise visit, which ultimately is good for everybody.

      The Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, an hour southeast of Phoenix, is the perfect antidote--no plastic animals or glass sculptures there.

  3. You already know what camp I'm in. Ugh.

    1. You're definitely not the only one. I thought I'd hate it, I ended up feeling amused by it. But I witnessed plenty of headshaking.

  4. Although I fully support the sentiment I'm not sure I would have enjoyed taking photos of plastic..though the unobtrusive grey/black numbers are ok. I think I would have really been disappointed if it were my first visit-and maybe my only visit to the garden.On the other hand if installations like this help to financially support the garden they definitely have a place.

    1. This is where my thought process always goes. What if you've been dreaming of visiting the DBG and you finally have the opportunity and THIS is what you see....

    2. True enough. If this had been my first visit, I might have been of a different mind about this exhibit.

    3. Kathy, the financial aspect is a big part of the equation. And I'm sure this exhibit does draw members with kids...

  5. Ugh. Meerkats + Chihuly. Double Ugh. But I'm not a CEO trying to bring in the $$ and yes, it will definitely bring in families. Sadly. Because, you know, plants don't do that....


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