In 1939, a small group of passionate local citizens saw the need to conserve the beautiful desert environment. One was Swedish botanist Gustaf Stark, 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.
See how the Garden has grown during its history into a compelling attraction and desert conservation pioneer.
The Garden opens its doors to the public.
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.
Gertrude Webster dies leaving her estate to support the Garden.
Archer House is built and named in honor of Lou Ella Archer, a founding member who contributed time and talent to early fund drives.
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.
The visitor center and gift shop are added.
Galvin Parkway opens and provides direct access to the public.
The new library is built to house a valuable donation of rare books and prints.
The Docent Program is established as part of the Education Department to provide guided and informative tours.
Luminarias welcomed 600 guests for the very first Las Noches de las Luminaries.
The American Association of Museums accredits the Garden. Only 24 gardens have earned this distinction.
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.
Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail opens.
The Garden secures a National Science Foundation grant to expand and upgrade the trail system.
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.
$17.8 million campaign transforms old Cactus and Succulent Houses into Sybil. B Harrington Cactus and Succulent Galleries and opens Ottosen Entry Garden.
Joy and Howard Berlin Agave Yucca Forest opens.
Center for Desert Living Trail is refurbished.
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.
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.
The Virginia G. Piper Desert Terrace Garden and the Lewis Desert Portal open.
New Butterfly Exhibit and Hazel Hare Center for Plant Science open.
The Garden Shop expands 1,200 square feet and a new Plant Shop is launched.
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.
Straight from Milan, Italy, the Garden is invaded by more than 1,000 animal sculptures made from colorful and recyclable plastic.
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.
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 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.