History of Desert Botanical Garden's Plant Sale


The first Plant Sale at Desert Botanical Garden debuted in 1976 and was called the Unusual Plant Sale of Unusual Plants. It took more than a year of planning at the Garden with a group of selected growers. The goal was to bring together an ample amount of uncommon cactus, succulents, trees, shrubs and other desert and dry-area plants that would thrive in an Arizona garden. Many of the plants sold at the first Plant Sale were unavailable for purchase anywhere in the state, and some were only available by special order through top-grade nurseries.

The Plant Sale started with a members’ preview on a Friday evening and by Saturday morning, there was a line of people waiting to enter. After the three-day event, the Garden raised $4,600 and decided to make the Plant Sale an annual event.

Since inception, the Garden has incorporated some key components that set the event apart:

  • Selling native plants that will successfully grow in Arizona
  • Providing knowledgeable staff and volunteers to answer questions
  • Offering unusual plants that are not commonly found

“Not only are we selling interesting and great plants, but we are providing knowledgeable experts who can assist with purchasing decisions. All of our Horticulture staff are available throughout the weekend. In addition, we have arborists and experts in cactus and agaves who can answer questions,” says Kenny Zelov, assistant director of horticulture.

Over the last 40 years, the Plant Sale has continued to evolve into a Spring and Fall sale that offers more than 30,000 plants. Zelov took the lead and was able to add some additions to the Plant Sale:

  • Incorporating retail vendors
  • Offering larger plants and a delivery option
  • 90% of the plants are on consignment from the nursery allowing for an expanded selection

Preparation for the Plant Sale begins two months in advance with a review of the plants sold at previous sales. Zelov reaches out to nurseries to determine available plants, and a wish list is created. Once deliveries are scheduled, planning of the layout begins. Plant deliveries begin two weeks before the sale and are unloaded, organized alphabetically by genus and species and labeled by staff, volunteers and hired workers. After months of work, the Plant Sale is finally ready for customers.

“The Plant Sale is a one-stop shopping opportunity. We offer a range of everything from vegetables and herbs, trees, shrubs, cactus, succulents and more. They quality of our plants is top-notch and there are many you can’t find anywhere else,” says Zelov.

As the Plant Sales continues to evolve, one of the goals is for the Garden to grow more of the plants sold at the events. The Garden has access to plants that cannot be found at local nurseries, and with the addition of the new Horticulture Campus, space will be available to start this process.

“The hope is that we can start selling these interesting plants that we know people want, increase the demand for them and convince other nurseries they should start growing and selling them,” says Zelov. “We aren’t here to try and corner the market, we want to create the market and create an interest for these amazing plants.”