Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The grass is always greener...

Yesterday I drove my youngest daughter to Indianapolis to catch a flight to Arizona to visit her older sister. I was ready to jump on the plane with her at the last moment! Although the temperatures are slowly getting warmer here at home, the forecast is for rain all week, making me long for a warmer, drier climate. I did get to visit my daughter in Phoenix at the end of January and had a wonderful time. For a girl from the flat prairies of central Illinois, the mountains of Arizona were awe-inspiring. Sedona, about two hours north of Phoenix, has picture-perfect scenery and is a popular destination for tourists. While I was in Phoenix, my daughter had to go to work, so I had to entertain myself during the day. The last full day I was there, I had a few options from my handy AAA travel guide and decided to visit the Desert Botanical Gardens. I am so glad I did! The gardens are located in Papago Park on the Southeast corner of Phoenix. If you are ever in Phoenix, it is well worth visiting.

When I arrived, I planned just to walk around the gardens, but fortunately, a guided walking tour was about to begin, so I joined the group. I am so glad I did! Our guide was very knowledgeable and told so many interesting anecdotes about various plants; I never would have gotten this much information by myself. I was told the tour would take about 30 minutes, but it actually took over an hour, which gave us twice as much time to enjoy the experience.

I don't remember all the exotic varieties we saw, but my favorite has to be the saguaro cactus, just because it is the symbol of the Southwest and because I didn't realize how large they could be. They live for 150 years or more; the one below had to be 20 to 30 feet tall. The Saguaro, though not on the endangered species list, is protected by Arizona state law. If a land developer has to remove one while clearing the land, he is required to transplant it. Our guide also told us that in his neighborhood he has seen the police arresting cacti poachers. I can't imagine that they would have been digging up very large specimens, though, as the saguaro's roots are as wide as they are tall.

If you will look carefully at the photo, you will notice some holes near the top of the cactus. These are commonly made by a native woodpecker (sorry, you bird enthusiasts, I don't remember its name), but the point to remember is that these holes then become popular nesting places for other creatures, especially snakes. You can see why I didn't want to get too close to take a picture! Several of the saguaros we saw also had holes chewed out at the bottom by rabbits--apparently those cute little Easter bunnies are the bane of gardeners everywhere.

The tree above is near the entrance of the gardens, which is fitting since it is the state tree of Arizona, the palo verde. I have no idea if the trunk remains green ("verde") all year.

My other favorite in the garden were the agaves. Of course, many Midwestern gardeners have some varieties of this plant, but one desert variety was particularly interesting. I believe it was a type of century plant, but you will have to forgive my memory.

These plants live 100 years or more, but they only bloom once in their lifetime. When they do bloom, they shoot up a tall bloom and then die. Although you can't really see the plant in this picture, if you look carefully at the middle you will see a tall, slender stalk arising from this agave. I don't know why this impressed me so much--I guess it's the wonderful idea of one "last hurrah" before leaving this world.

At the end of the tour, I eagerly visited the gardens' gift shop and found much more than the usual touristy souvenirs. Unfortunately, I was running out of time when I discovered a large area filled with cacti for sale. Between trying to choose among all the interesting choices and trying to figure out the logistics of flying home with a cactus, I am sorry to say I came home empty-handed.

Again, if you are ever in Phoenix, make the time to visit these beautiful gardens. In fact, this would be the perfect time of year, since the cacti should be in bloom right now. As I sit here watching the rain fall once again today and think of my daughters sitting in tank tops watching a Cubs spring training game, I wish I was in Phoenix. But then the grass is always greener somewhere else, isn't it? And in a few weeks when my tulips and daffodils are blooming, the lawn is a lush green, and my redbud is in all its glory, there's no place I would rather be than right here at home!


  1. What a great post! The pictures make you want to go there. And in a few weeks whe the temp in Phoenix is in the 100s....

  2. Rose,
    Great post. The roadrunner you mention is the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus).
    Palo Verde and Palo Brea tree trunks are naturally green and stay that was through the life of the tree. It's hard to keep them from being scarred, but some folks love to plant very young trees and pamper them to keep anything from scarring the beautiful smooth green trunks. Also, gardeners like to plant Queen's Wreath vine near the trees, and in the fall, it will twine and show rose pink flower clusters among the green tree branches. It is a startling combination.
    You came to Arizona at just the right time. Another few months and I, too, will wish for cooler climes.

  3. ... a photographer's paradise, Rose. Thanks for stopping by, otherwise I would have missed this lovely tour of Sedona, a place I have often wished to visit.

  4. No rain, Thanks for all the interesting info--it's hard to remember everything you learn on a short walking tour. The Queen's Wreath around the Palo Verde sounds beautiful.

    Joey, I am sure other parts of Arizona are breathtaking as well, but yes, you would be in paradise with your camera in Sedona.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  5. What a wonderful post, I felt I took that trip with you. It is so nice to see a garden that is so different from the English garden.
    I love the huge cacti, the one where the woodpecker had made the hole. I love snakes to so that plant held a great deal of fascination for me.
    Drop by sometime.

  6. Thanks for the kind comments, Cheryl. I am enjoying "virtual" traveling through all the garden blogs. But the English countryside is especially fascinating to me, so I really enjoy your posts.


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