It may sound silly, but I believe that you can tell a lot about a botanical garden from its entrance. Chicago had its Eremurus, Olbrich its containers (and overgrown shrubbery), Kew has a spectacular glasshouse and chamomile (?) lawn- and the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix Arizona had enormous desert specimens. A reasonably sized garden, it is the perfect activity for folks who are visiting Phoenix, but have had enough malls, traffic and sprawl for awhile. The Desert Botanical Garden is exactly how I imagine Phoenix looked 100 years ago. Fields of Saguaro cacti cresting the hillsides, and various spiny things that look like they could kill you.
The beds are beautifully laid out and provide a great introduction to all manner of very water thrifty plants. If you are as unfamiliar with these types of plants as I am, I encourage you to get an actual tour to learn about how the plants were collected, their native ranges and some remarkable stories of rescue. This strange cactus was rescued from a front yard (as I recall) and moved to the botanical garden as a centerpiece. It is hugely tall- maybe 15-20 feet.
For those of you who grow aloes and agaves in containers, as I do, you would be impressed to see sofa-sized specimens of these wonderful plants.
For the curious, on a tour you can also see a cross-section of a cactus, like the tall Saguaros- which we found endlessly fascinating, and in fact spent much of the rest of our trip imagining those strange insides, filled with bird hollows.
Sadly, I don’t have a photo of my favorite plant; the State Tree of Arizona, a Palo Verde and its bright green bark was one of the few plants I’d love to grow back home. But the real stars of the garden were the cacti- with so many varieties large and small, and in so many shades and forms, if I were a desert dweller I would definitely grow as many as I could get my hands on. That said,
one final caution, as much as you may want to- and it is quite tempting, don’t actually get your hands on the cacti. Even the ones that look like they don’t have thorns. I was picking spines out of my hand for a week.