Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix
At the height of the Great Depression, Swedish-born botanist Gustaf Starck posted a handmade sign outside his Phoenix home inscribed with three simple words: Save the desert.
Little did Starck know, his plea would alter the landscape of Arizona’s horticultural scene forever. The sign inspired the formation of the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society, which was comprised of Starck and a group of like-minded botany buffs, which helped get the Desert Botanical Garden up and running just before the outbreak of World War II. And while Arizona’s arid conditions wouldn’t seem like the optimal environment for plant life, the DBG boasts more than 50,000 displays that showcase plants designed to survive the harshest conditions.
Predictably, walkways are lined with hypnotizing succulents and cacti of all sizes, from the long, lean arms of the garden’s Echinopsis to fuzzy, flat ovals of the Opuntioideae. The garden’s collection has 1,319 taxa of cacti, nearly three-quarters of the entire cactus family.
Guests can gaze on a mass of Mexican vegetation at the Berlin Agave Yucca Forest, and the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail offers a reprieve from the strictly prickly plants, infusing bursts of colorful blossoms into a two-acre trail that peaks in March and April.
Be sure to check out the Center for Desert Living Trail, where horticulturally frustrated desert transplants can pick up tips on how to keep their gardens going in the dry conditions.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables, Fla.
It’s not easy to find a balance between the flair of Miami Beach and the natural beauty typified by traditional botanical gardens, but the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden gets it right.
With a special emphasis on palms, cycads and fruit trees, Fairchild boasts one of the largest collections of tropical plants in the world and brings out the best of South Florida’s distinctive greenery. The Windows to the Tropics Conservatory provides shelter from surprisingly chilly Miami winters for some of Fairchild’s rarest specimens like the Pelagodoxa henryana, a French Polynesian palm species of which only a dozen still exist in the wild.
Immerse yourself in an Amazonian adventureland at the Richard H. Simons Rainforest, a two-acre cross section of the rapidly disappearing habitat that houses about half of all species on earth. Or experience one of Fairchild’s field programs by stepping onto the shores of Madagascar, the massive island off the coast of eastern Africa, with its distinctive mix of bristly flora known as the spiny forest.
Hoping to pep up your pantry? Make a visit to the Edible Garden, where you’ll learn the best tropical fruits to grow in your backyard, or just pick up a bag of ultrafresh produce (papaya, carambola and avocados) at Fairchild’s weekend fruit market.