A garden in the desert grows children’s curiousity
February 12, 2018
Story and photos by Crystal Lewis Brown
When we got home that Saturday evening, my kids excitedly told my husband about their day.
“We saw six heads!” they exclaimed, much to his (understandable) confusion.
Let me explain: The heads are actually one of several Jun Kaneko sculptures on display at Desert Botanical Garden through May. Scattered throughout the garden, the colorful pieces struck a bright contrast to the surrounding plants. Plus, to the kids, they just looked cool.
When we first arrived, the kids looked a bit like I’d fooled them. “I thought we were going to a garden?”
And I admit, the first time I heard about the Desert Botanical Garden, it sounded to me a little bit like an oxymoron. It’s a desert. Gardens are about flowers. How could the two possibly marry up?
Turns out, they don’t have to. With about 50,000 desert plants (including, yes, colorful flowers), this garden is its own unique place of beauty, which actually seems to change depending on what time of day you go. But whether you go midday or dusk, it’s an interesting visit.
Armed with our map and fitness trackers (we all got new ones for Christmas), my two boys and I plotted out our route. The garden is separated into a series of loops that range from 1/10th of a mile to 1/3rd mile, each with its own unique focus, which makes it easy to plan your trip: Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail; Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail; Center for Desert Living Trail; Desert Discovery Loop Trail; and Desert Wildflower Loop Trail.
Scattered between and around each trail are several other points of interest, including the Agave Yucca Forest, Boppart Courtyard and the Cactus and Succulent Galleries, among others. The garden also boasts an onsite restaurant, Gertrude’s.
We started our trip on the Desert Wildflower Loop Trail, where we met a couple searching for butterflies in the Butterfly Garden. While we spotted one flutter off, we were actually about a month early for one of the garden’s yearly exhibits – their Spring Butterfly Exhibit. Instead of the one little guy we saw, once the exhibit opens on February 24, visitors can get an up-close-and-personal look at hundreds from across North America.
As we continued through the loop, my oldest son pointed out and named the many desert plants we’d learned about in school. My kindergartener, on the other hand, didn’t seem quite as excited as his third-grade brother rattled off several species of cacti.
We then headed past more colorful sculptures until we reached the Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert, where the fun really began. We stopped by a desert oasis where they looked at the browning cattails swaying in the breeze (did I mention it was an exceptionally beautiful day?). They also had the opportunity to walk inside of an Akimel O’odham household as well as a Western Apache household. The boys also took turns crushing dried mesquite pods on a stone for the garden’s hungry squirrels to eat.
In addition to its regular plants and exhibits, the garden also hosts a variety of events all year long, including Music in the Garden and their Spring Plant Sale. They also offer family programs and tours.
Back to the aforementioned fitness trackers – not only did we get a chance to look at the desert beauty we don’t usually find time to appreciate, but we also all reached our step goals for the day. I don’t know about you, but with a kid duo that would usually rather play video games, I call the visit a success. Plus, they’ve already made me promise to come back for the butterflies.
The Butterfly exhibit runs February 24-May 13 and features hundreds of butterflies, including painted ladies, zebra longwings and giant swallowtail.