Phoenix Botanical Garden | History of the Desert Botanical Garden


In 1939, a small group of passionate local citizens saw the need to conserve the beautiful desert environment. One was Swedish botanist Gustaf Starck, who found like-minded residents by posting a sign that read “Save the Desert.”


With the support of social influencers of the time such as Gertrude Divine Webster, the Garden’s presence grew. Nearly eight decades later, thanks to leadership and investments from many individuals, Desert Botanical Garden has blossomed from a dream into a living museum.

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Celebrate the Garden all year long
What started in 1939 as a dream to save the desert, has blossomed into the living museum you see today. Now, as we celebrate our 85th anniversary, we are excited for what the future holds. Join us for special programing every month.

March 2024 | Final chance to experience Fernando Botero: El Maestro.

April 2024
 | Music in the Garden turns 35 with a special concert lineup.

May 2024
 | Celebrate National Cactus Day and participate in the Saguaro Census.

June 2024
 | Enjoy the Garden after dark at Flashlight Nights.

July/August 2024
 | Get behind-the-scenes with Research & Conservation.

September 2024
 | Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month & Fall Programming.

October 2024
 | Celebrate Monarchs in the Fall Butterfly exhibit.

November 2024
 | Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Celebration.

December 2024
 | Celebrate Las Noches de las Luminarias with a new holiday light experience.

January 2025
 | Celebrate a new year with a commitment to conservation.

Historical Timeline

See how the Garden has grown during its history into a compelling attraction and desert conservation pioneer.

People shoveling


The Garden opens its doors to the public.

photo of cactus


World War II brings most Garden activity to a halt. Arizona State Teachers College, now Arizona State University, provides administrative oversight while volunteers work to sustain the fragile collections on site.

Historical photo of Gertrude Webster - The Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix, AZ


Gertrude Webster dies leaving her estate to support the Garden.

square house in the dirt


Archer House is built and named in honor of Lou Ella Archer, a founding member who contributed time and talent to early fund drives.

two men posing for photo


Under W. Taylor Marshall's leadership, the Garden’s collections increase from 1,000 specimens at the end of World War II to more than 18,000 specimens.

antique cars parked outside of visitors center


The visitor center and gift shop are added.

desert botanical garden first sign


Galvin Parkway opens and provides direct access to the public.

construction of library for dbg


The new library is built to house a valuable donation of rare books and prints.

newspaper article of desert garden seeks docents


The Docent Program is established as part of the Education Department to provide guided and informative tours.

light walkway at dbg


Luminarias welcomed 600 guests for the very first Las Noches de las Luminaries.

tall cactus photo with people visiting the garden


The American Association of Museums accredits the Garden. Only 24 gardens have earned this distinction.

square building


Desert Botanical Garden becomes a charter member of the Center for Plant Conservation—a consortium of botanical gardens devoted to preserving rare flora of the United States.

children learning about plants


Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail opens.

sign to dbg the garden is growing back to back


The Garden secures a National Science Foundation grant to expand and upgrade the trail system.

desert botanical garden admission entrance


Garden completes a $17 million expansion, which includes a new entry and admissions area, gift shop, Dorrance Hall, a 400-seat reception hall and gallery, the Nina Mason Pulliam Research and Horticulture Center.

scenery with cactus and plants


$17.8 million campaign transforms old Cactus and Succulent Houses into Sybil. B Harrington Cactus and Succulent Galleries and opens Ottosen Entry Garden.

Berlin Agave Yucca Forest


Joy and Howard Berlin Agave Yucca Forest opens.

desert botanical garden


Center for Desert Living Trail is refurbished.

desert botanical garden


The Garden celebrates its 75th anniversary and launches The Saguaro Initiative, a fundraising campaign to invest in the future of the Garden.



The Central Arizona Conservation Alliance is formed to study, protect and promote the Valley’s mountain park preserves.

DBG History Spaces 2015


Spaces of Opportunity is a community initiative in south Phoenix working to transform a food desert to a food oasis through an incubator farm, family gardens and farmers market.

cactus and plants surrounding infrastructure


The Virginia G. Piper Desert Terrace Garden and the Lewis Desert Portal open.

plants and cactus at the garden


New Butterfly Exhibit and Hazel Hare Center for Plant Science open.

DBG History GardenShop


The Garden Shop expands 1,200 square feet and a new Plant Shop is launched.

Electric Desert at Desert Botanical Garden


From Oct. 2018 through May 2019 more than 190,000 visitors were wowed by the immersive experience of Electric Desert | A Light and Sound Experience by Klip Collective.

Wild Rising Exhibit


Straight from Milan, Italy, the Garden is invaded by more than 1,000 animal sculptures made from colorful and recyclable plastic.

Ottosen Entry Garden at Desert Botanical Garden


The Garden closes its doors to the public for 16 weeks, in response to COVID-19. This marks the second time in the Garden's history. The first closure was in 40s due to WWII.

Waterlily Pond Studio Wind Installation


The Garden presents its first-ever live floral show featuring large-scale living sculptures created by Natasha Lisitsa and Daniel Schultz of Waterlily Pond Studio.

Chihuly Encabezado


Chihuly in the Desert arrives and showcases Dale Chihuly’s stunning, large-scale installations nestled among the Garden’s world-class collection of desert plants.


The Garden hosts Arizona's first-ever exhibition of paintings, drawings and monumental sculptures by Colombian artist, Fernando Botero.


Christensen Family Desert Oasis opens to include entry bridge, calming water features and vibrant displays of seasonal plants and a shaded grove of trees.

Partial funding provided by Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture through appropriations from the Phoenix City Council.