When I think of the desert, I think of dry, brown, arid environments with little to no life. I also think of hot fudge sundaes, but that’s because my brain has a hard time letting go of that extra “s” in the word dessert. While my original thoughts have some validity to them, I recently discovered the desert has a unique beauty that goes beyond the dry brown climate.
A trip to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ is all it took for me to open a small piece of my heart to the desert. For as long as I can remember, succulents have been one of my favorite types of plant. Little did I know a cactus is technically a succulent. You can tell I didn’t study horticulture in college.
I also had no idea there were so many species of cacti. I was familiar with saguaro (I think we all are), barrel, prickly pear (thanks Jungle Book), and a few others I recognized visually (though I don’t know the names), but I discovered so many more.
Octopus cactus (legit), teddy bear cactus (you touch it and it sticks on you and won’t let go), ones that had hair, and ones that looked like a fence.
The cacti were educational, but the original purpose for this adventure was to see the Jun Kaneko sculptures littered around the gardens. Jun is a Japanese American artist who specializes in large, hand built ceramic sculptures. The majority of the sculptures we saw were of giant heads. They were weird, but a good kind of weird.
Kind of like me.
The gardens are spread over five trails, winding and looping together in one way or another. It took us two hours to cover it all, walking at a comfortable pace. It was a tranquil place and I found myself leaving much calmer than I walked in. The garden had sections for different plants, including an edible garden.
My favorite thing about the gardens were the reminders that nature is healing. They have sensory gardens to relax the mind scattered around the property, fountains trickled water, birds chirped in the trees, and the air was fresh. My favorite sculpture and location had a fountain, and a view of the surrounding mountains.
I could have sat there for hours.
This experience was a good reminder that beauty is found anywhere, and sometimes it just takes a shift in perspective. I didn’t think the desert was ugly necessarily, but I didn’t jump out of my seat to call it beautiful either. What shocked me the most while visiting this garden was all the green. Green trees, green cacti, green succulents.
Who knew the desert could have so much green in one place.
The paths were surrounded by desert dwelling organisms, and every so often we’d stumble upon some sculptures. Art is funny, and really anything can be viewed as art depending on..you guessed it..perspective. Anything from a red line drawn on a black sheet of paper, to tall bear/pig hybrid statues.
The one with stripes was my spirit animal. #twins.
Art can come in all shapes and sizes, and everybody has their own preference. I enjoy art in many forms from written words, to paintings, to sculptures like these. Art offers a unique view into the mind of its creator, and has its own therapeutic and meditative benefits. Finding art within a garden makes a lot of sense when I think of it like that.
One day, when I grow up, I will have a large garden next to a tiny home. I will spend my free time outdoors soaking up the meditative benefits of fountains, and nature, and it will be my place of zen. These botanical gardens have a powerful way of giving you the same benefits you’d get from meditation, and for that I’m a fan.
Maybe I’ll even have a Jun Kaneko giant head, don’t they look like they’re meditating?
My family bought a membership to these gardens, and I can’t wait to visit again at a different time of year. I don’t anticipate much will change with the plants, desert terrain doesn’t have seasons, but the different activities and exhibits will be fun. If I lived in Arizona I would come here once a week to recenter my focus and sit near my favorite labyrinth.
The goal of meditation is not to control your thoughts, it’s to stop your thoughts from controlling you.
Q: What’s your preferred biome? I have three: grassland, temperate deciduous forests, and taiga.