Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden: Summer Secrets

The Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, located near the Phoenix Zoo in Papago Park, is a 140-acre botanical garden featuring desert plants and a few secrets hidden on the five themed trails. There’s much more than cacti. In fact, the garden is home to thousands of species of cactus, trees, and flowers from all around the world. No matter what the season, you’ll see flowers, stunning arrangements of living plants, birds, and desert wildlife. But my discovery of the secrets of the garden began years ago with an invitation to meet Pacific Northwest glass artist, Dale Chihuly, who was there to oversee the installation of an amazing collection of art glass objects.

Desert Botanical Garden

The popular Chihuly art glass installations were placed to complement the natural environment. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Dale Chihuly at the Desert Botanical Garden

Dale Chihuly, from Tacoma, Washington is known for his monumental works of art glass. His work can be found in more than 200 museums around the world, and many of his fans visit Tacoma just to see the amazing art glass installations dotted throughout the city and enjoy a stay at the Hotel Murano, which features glass art on every floor. His temporary installations have found homes in places like Venice and botanical gardens all over the world.

The Desert Botanical Garden hosted an exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s art glass creations in 2008-2009. And again, in 2013-2014, he presided over an entirely new installation of amazing, colorful glass creations, most of them monumental, and all of them complimenting the natural desert landscape. There were boats filled with colored glass orbs, fanciful chandeliers of free-flowing glass forms hung from on high, and soaring scarlet surprises amongst the cacti. These installations proved to bring unprecedented attendance to the garden and I visited four times to marvel at the glass and photograph the colorful forms.

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Desert Botanical Garden

The Chihuly installation in years past included interesting shapes like spires and orbs. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Even today, as you enter the garden you will see agave-like glass spires intermingled with the natural plants. These brilliant yellow-green Chihuly art glass creations, from his first installation in 2008, sparkle in the day time and glow at night.

Desert Botanical Garden

At the entrance to the Desert Botanical Garden sit the original Chihuly glass spires. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Art Continues at Desert Botanical Garden

At a recent visit, I was surprised to see that the glass spires at the entrance had been joined by a village of rainbow-colored meerkats! And, after passing through a gazebo covered with equally colorful frogs, I entered the garden. The Desert Botanical Garden’s newest art installation came from Milan. Entitled, “Wild Rising by Cracking Art,” the collections placed throughout the garden included more than 1,000 animal sculptures made from colorful and recyclable plastic. Kids will enjoy both the life-size and gigantic plastic animals and will discover that plastic does not have to end up in landfills—it can be reinvented into something eye-catching and thought-provoking.

Desert Botanical Garden

Today, fanciful meerkats greet visitors to the Desert Botanical Garden. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

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As I walked, I discovered snails, a huge white rabbit, and coyotes. They were fun to find and almost overshadowed the secrets held by the natural plantings and pathways. The installation will continue through November 18, 2020.

Desert Botanical Garden

This fanciful plastic snail pointed the way to another trail to explore. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Little Secret Gardens

Throughout the Desert Botanical Garden, there are specialty gardens tucked away off the beaten path. On this visit, I discovered the Sensory Garden. At its center was a quietly bubbling fountain making for an ideal place to rest on a warm summer day.

Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden

The Sensory Garden had a bubbling fountain, interesting textures, and plenty of shade. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Nearby were blooming herb gardens and surprises like sunflowers and delicate flowering plants.

Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden

These delicate pink flowers contrasted with the stark, spines of the cacti. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

My favorite remains the fascinating succulent gardens where I always discover something new and exotic among the plants. The Desert Botanical Garden is home to one of the world’s most amazing international collections of desert plants including those with fascinating textures, plants that reach toward the sky like the giant Saguaro cactus, blooming century plants, and more in a natural setting. The gardens are arranged to provide the visitor with plenty of photo ops and surprises around every turn.

Desert Botanical Garden

This colorful agave plant was a draw for the photographer's eye in the dappled shade. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Surprisingly Good Shopping

The gift shop is a must-visit because so many of the desert garden-related items are not found elsewhere. There are the typical souvenirs such as caps and t-shirts, but look carefully, the graphics are excellent. There are children’s books with desert themes and even a collection of desert seeds that you can take home with you to try your hand at growing a cactus. And, wouldn’t a jar of prickly pear jelly make a great gift?

Desert Botanical Garden

These plants had been moved into the shop during the summer season. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

When You Visit Desert Botanical Garden

This visit was in the morning on a summer day. So, guests would need to bring water, use sunscreen, wear a hat, and wear comfortable walking shoes.

Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden

Walk the pathways but don't forget to look up! Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Pets and therapy animals are not allowed in the Garden. If you would like to bring your dog to the Garden, visit Dogs' Day in the Garden. And, of course, don’t leave a pet in your car during your visit.

During this time of concern about the Coronavirus, the Desert Botanical Garden is just re-opening to the public. July 6, 2020, will be the first day when you can make an appointment to visit. Appointments are necessary in order to regulate capacity. And, expect to wear a mask and socially-distance when you go. On hot days, you may need to plan a shorter visit because of the importance of wearing a mask as you wander the garden. Check before going to see what trails and amenities are open. The day I was there, the restaurant was closed but the fantastic little gift shop was open for business.

Desert Botanical Garden

1201 N. Galvin Parkway
Phoenix, AZ 85008

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For more “Wow Moments” at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, see our Spring visit article. And, for more ideas for your visit to Phoenix, enjoy these Valley of the Sun area articles by Wander writers.

The Desert Botanical Garden in Arizona, located near the Phoenix Zoo in Papago Park, is a 140-acre botanical garden featuring desert plants and a few secrets hidden on the five themed trails.

Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary admission for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

Written by Elizabeth Rose

Elizabeth Rose is back again in the Phoenix area after more than a decade living in New Mexico and Washington state. She travels throughout the West and beyond writing about destinations, accommodations, festivals, and restaurants, especially farm to table cuisine. As an expert in cultural tourism, her writing reflects that passion. She has won awards for her photography and accompanies her articles with her own images. She also provides photos for magazine covers, web sites and magazine articles (both print and online).

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  1. Michele Peterson

    I visited the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden quite awhile ago and it sounds as though it’s time for a return visit! The bubbling fountain looks like a refreshing place to enjoy!

  2. Elizabeth Rose

    Yes, the fountain was nice but there are lots of little cooling areas where you can relax out of the sun. Of course in the summer, going early or late is ideal. But I thought a summer visit was very pleasant. Liz

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