Judging by the number of pictures I’ve taken of desert plants, they would seem to be among my favorite things to photograph. I hadn’t thought about it until now but I lived for 25 years on the side of a Sonoran desert canyon wall, surrounded by several varieties of prickly pear planted by my landscape architect and certified desert-rat of a husband. It appears to have had an impact and led me to the day my eyes lit up on arrival at Moorten Botanical Garden.
Called Desertland on the map handed out on entry, the garden has been in the Moorten family since it was founded in 1938. Originally purchased as a family home, Chester “Cactus Slim” & Patricia Moorten bought the property, coincidentally, from my favorite desert photographer, Stephen Willard. The property affords a glimpse into Palm Springs history at a time when it was known primarily for posh health resorts favored by the wealthy and Hollywood movie community.
From Moorten’s website, “Together the couple expanded Chester’s business to include landscape design and were soon hired by such luminaries as Walt Disney, Red Skelton, Jimmy Van Heusen, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby to create backyards at their desert homes. Walt even tapped the duo to curate the foliage for Frontierland at his soon-to-be-built Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA.”
These days the garden is owned by Chester and Patricia’s son, Clark. There are plants to buy but it appeared to me that most visitors come to immerse themselves in the forest of mature specimens along the winding paths. Just an acre in size and home to over 3,000 varieties, this extraordinary garden seems much larger, the huge old plants forming walls between one section of path and the next to give the impression of a much larger space than the modest square footage might indicate.
For fans of desert plants, there are more in the following reports:
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