The Desert Botanical Garden in Papago Park is throwing their 80th birthday bash this Saturday, February 16, and everyone is invited to celebrate. Ken Schutz, executive director of the garden, says this is a large milestone for the Phoenix tourism site.
“We’ve spent a year planning,” Schutz says. “We’re pausing to tell our story.”
The day is filled with outdoor activities that range from herbarium tours to a documentary screening. Children can splash around in the pond or draw “animal tracks” with chalk along the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop.
The garden welcomes close to half a million visitors every year who come to see the more than 50,000 desert plants that call the garden home. But it wasn’t always so popular. The garden was originally started as a refuge for desert plants and even had to close two years after it opened because of World War II.
When people moved out to Arizona in the early 1900s, Schutz says, people brought plants from back east which destroyed the native environment.
“I think they came because they loved our climate, but they weren’t too keen on desert plants,” Schutz says.
Swedish botanist Gustaf Starck and social influencer Gertrude Divine Webster adored the desert, so they banded together and opened the Desert Botanical Garden in February 1939.
“They both were appalled at how rapidly the desert was being destroyed, in what was then the 50,000-person footprint (of Phoenix), and wanted to have a place set aside where desert plants would be conserved, protected, and celebrated,” Schutz says.
Webster and Starck donated many of the original plants from their personal collections to start the garden. Some of the original plants are still alive today and can be spotted in the older areas of the grounds. Schutz’s office is tucked away near some original cardóns, which are tall cacti with multiple vertical branches.
“I have the best view in the city,” Schutz says.
Visitors can participate in a geocaching activity at the celebration to revisit some of the original plants while discovering newer ones as well. The Soundbite food truck will be rolling in and opening up an on-the-spot recording studio for guests to record their favorite garden memories. If you arrive early enough, you might be able to snag one of the free anniversary cupcakes they’ll be passing out. Best of all? Admission is only $8, a fraction of the usual cost.
"The Garden Celebrates 80 Years." 8 a.m. Saturday, February 16, from 8 a.m. at Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 North Galvin Parkway; 480-941-1225; dbg.org. Tickets are $8.