In most of the United States, homeowners get ready to shut down their yards and gardens in September. But in much of Arizona, as the weather cools, we’re getting ready for our second spring — a time to plant, landscape and launch a new beginning for our yards.
Before you start, we’d suggest visiting some inspiring garden spots and beautiful wild landscapes you can find all over the state. We’ve listed eight here, including some well-known spots and some that may be new to you. Even if you are not able to visit all of them, a couple might be all you need for inspiration to get you started.
Even if you’ve already landscaped your yard, these garden spots are great places to see unique desert and arid-adapted plants that can survive in a rugged environment.
Desert Botanical Garden
The garden, founded in 1939, is the best of them all and is one of the most magnificent sites in the state. DBG has five trails that focus on the drama and beauty of the Sonoran Desert, including one that suggests sustainable ways to garden at your home. There are tens of thousands of plants here, including many varieties of cactus, agaves, aloes and other desert flora that might work in your yard. A visit can be vast and overwhelming, but will increase your love for desert plants. dbg.org
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
This great site in the Tucson area was founded in 1952 and is located near Saguaro National Park. That means you can make the park part of your trek as well. Much of the museum is devoted to desert animals, but there are also 16 individual desert botanical gardens with 1,200 plant species and 56,000 individual plants. desertmuseum.org
Tucson Botanical Garden
In a more urban setting in Tucson, you’ll find this garden that started out as the home of the Porter family in the 1920s. The family ran a nursery there from the 1920s to the1950s. Eventually, the property was donated to the city of Tucson and became a public garden. It’s a 5.5-acre sanctuary featuring a cactus plus succulent garden, a barrio garden and an herb garden with tons of native plants. There’s also a butterfly and orchid pavilion. tucsonbotanical.org
Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden
This garden in the city-run Chaparral Park features regionally appropriate plants planted to reduce outdoor water use and encourage residents to swing toward growing a sustainable landscape. The garden actually conceals a buried 5.5-million gallon reservoir from the adjacent Chaparral Water Treatment plant and showcases more than 7,000 plants. Signs along the way give visitors tips on low-water use plants and trees, as well as water harvesting. scottsdaleaz.gov/water/xeriscape-garden
Rio Salado Restoration Area/Audubon Center
This area of paved and natural trails along the Salt River in the Phoenix area is especially popular with bird lovers, since hundreds of species use the area as a migratory path. Although it’s not exactly a garden spot, there’s an Audubon Center on the property that can tell you all about water issues in the desert.rio.saladoaudobon.org
Boyce Thompson Arboretum
This is the largest and oldest botanical garden in the state of Arizona. It’s also one of the oldest botanical institutions west of the Mississippi. About one hour’s drive east of Phoenix, it also makes a great day trip from Tucson. A couple of acres here are devoted to a demonstration garden complete with patios, walls, shade structures, water features and rock work. Signs guide homeowners through basic landscape design and plant choices. There is also information on water harvesting, building and maintaining a backyard “oasis,” as well as advice on troubles home gardeners face with salinity in the desert. The arboretum is also a great place to buy plants – young versions of what you’ve seen on display. arboretum.ag.arizona.edu
Arizona College Campuses
The University of Arizona has a unique collection of plants from arid and semi-arid climates around the world. When the university began collecting special plants many years ago, date palms and olive trees, as well as cactus were planted on the campus. Many campus trees are among the largest in Arizona and are on the National Register of Big Trees. In spring and fall, guided tours are given for many of the plant collections. Self-guided tours are also possible using brochures that the arboretum can give you. arboretum.arizona.edu
The entire Tempe campus at Arizona State University is dedicated as an arboretum. The Tempe campus landscape is a diverse collection of plants from around the world that includes citrus, olive, pecan, sapote, apple, peach, quince, sweet bay and many other harvestable trees and shrubs. They even have an herb garden. The ASU Arboretum collection is registered with the North American Plant Collections Consortium and the American Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboretum. cfo.asu.edu/arboretum
Another hidden treasure is Secret Garden at Arizona State University. This is a quiet tropical garden hidden away at the Dixie Gammage Courtyard. It’s a botanical retreat meant for ASU students to relax in between classes. You could also reserve the Secret Garden if you wish. facebook.com/ASU.SecretGarden
You can also take tours among distinctive trees on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Learn about spruce, firs, aspens, cottonwoods, pines, junipers and more by visiting the arboretum. nau.edu/arboretum
The Arboretum at Flagstaff
This 200-acre arboretum is home to 750 species of mostly drought-tolerant adapted and native plants representative of the high-desert Colorado Plateau, home to the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. thearb.org
Now that you’ve traveled to a few of these places and know what you want to plant in your yard, where do you go to make your dream landscape a reality? Some of the places listed in this article sell plants as well as educate the public. Feel free to ask about acquiring plants of your own and how to care for them during your visits. You can also find local garden and nursery centers and answers to your gardening and landscape questions. JN
R.C. ‘Romey’ Romero is co-owner of Arizona’s home improvement radio program ‘Rosie on the House.’