Thursday, October 8, 2009


A few weeks ago I made plans to go out to visit my son and family in Phoenix. A trip to the Desert Botanical Garden is usually on the cards but I wondered if there might be another garden somewhere not too far away that I could visit. I contacted Aiyana of Water when Dry and she suggested the Wallace Desert Garden.

This is a private garden located in north Scottsdale. A visit to the garden is by appointment only, as the garden is located in the gated community of Sincuidados. I contacted Lee Brownson, the executive director, and made arrangements to visit last Friday morning.

It was one of those perfect desert mornings as we wound our way through the twisting roads of this neighborhood to reach the garden. All the houses are of Santa Fe or territorial style architecture, barely visible throughout the native, desert sensitive landscape. It was a surprise to find that we were 2400' above sea level. We had climbed steadily from the desert floor of Phoenix at 1000'

Crested saguaro exhibiting monstrose condition.

Lee met us at the house and took us into his office where he showed us a map of the Wallace property. A total of 12 acres are under cultivation. This property is all about the cactus and desert plants from many parts of the world and I was barely aware at any point in time that there was a house on the property. In fact there are two houses; the Wallace home and a guest house.

The house and gardens, built in the 1980s, were once the home of H B and Jocelyn Wallace. In 1993 the gardens were placed under the protection of the The Wallace Desert Garden Foundation, a non profit organization funded by an endowment and donations to the garden. Mr Wallace died in 2005 but his wife still has a life interest in the property.

When H B Wallace and Jocelyn retired to the desert southwest it wasn't long before they fell in love with desert plants and so began the collection of over 2500 species of cactus and desert dwelling plants. The Wallaces also became interested in the Desert Legume Program, founded by the University of Arizona, and their garden has an important and valuable collection of desert legumes.

Although the area under cultivation is 12 acres, a small area of the garden, which contains his collection of more prized plants, is walled to protect the plants from javelina and rabbits.

Wallace designed a 6000 sq. ft desert pavilion. It was originally meant to protect many of the tender cactus he brought from other parts of the world. However, over time many of these plants have become adapted to the conditions of the area and survive on other parts of the property. The roof consists of louvered slats which can be opened according to the weather and the side walls can also be opened.
It was a bonus to find this Stenocereus stellatus blooming.

Just outside the walls of the pavilion is a particularly stunning collection of cacti.

I am always attracted to the clumping cactus

and especially those in flower.

Even the Stapelia hirsute was in flower. I was particularly excited to see this flower, as last year Annie gave me some cuttings of this plant. I got down on my knees to smell the flower which has an odor of rotting flesh which attracts flies.

This model of a dinosaur might seem a little out of place in a desert garden. It was a gift from Mrs W to her husband.

An eye catching Agave parryi 'truncata'

Outside the walled area there was a more open feel to the planting.

This interesting large shrub caught my eye and I would have guessed it was a holly of some kind. I was wrong it was an shrub live oak Quercus turbinella.

Wallace was very proud of his boojum, Fouquieria columnar, forest. A collection of fourteen trees that were grown from seed brought from the Baja peninsular. The plants were installed in the garden about 15 years ago and have taken well to their new home. Dormant during the summer these trees leaf out following winter rains. In their natural habitat water from fogs drips down the trunk and waters the ground around the plant.

It is inevitable that at some point a plant will die from old age or unfavorable conditions and this stump of the Ficus indica shows just how woody a cactus can become.

Santa rita opuntia with agave.

A small flowering tree the Texas Olive, Cordia boissieri. Sometimes known as the Wild Olive or Mexican Olive ( Anacahuita) has soft grey-green leaves and white flowers highly attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. It is not related to other olives but is named so for the yellow to purple fruits which are similar to olives. It is a member of the borage family.

We spent and enjoyable 2 hours touring the grounds and I am indebted to Lee for giving us this private and informative tour of a spectacular garden. Garden lovers, who happen to find themselves in the Scottsdale area should make a special point of visiting this garden.


  1. Wow RR, I loved this post. What an amazing cactus garden you got to visit. I was particulary inspired by the clumping barrels you illustrated, they look so good tucked into each other tight like that. I think I now need to purchase a few more babies from from Miguel's Imports and embed them in a little closer in to each other than what I have been doing!
    The image of the Crested saguaro looks like the tribal leader of the Naboo tribe in full headdress regalia, what a great shot!

    Really enjoyed the cactus journey,

  2. Let me rush to add my thanks. What a lovely tour you offered us. This summer I thought a lot about desert plants and plantings. Predictably enough for Texas, I am sitting here enjoying your photos as it rains (and rains and rains....).

  3. ESP- This garden is a little different from the DBG- not as old for one, but spectacular all the same. I love those clumps. It seems that is the way the barrels should look and I think they achieve that all on their own. I'm not surprised you can relate to the monstrose saguaro formation. Alas, I don't think your tribal member would want that on her head!
    Texas Deb- Thanks for taking the tour. I know, the rain-- great but... anyhow I'm doing some much needed house work.

  4. What a wonderful tour, thank you for taking us along.

    The cacti are magnificent. A truly fascinating garden!

  5. Thanks for the tour, Jenny. What a marvelous cactus collection. Did you find it well designed, or was it more of a (haphazard?) collector's garden?

  6. What a delightful tour. I would love to see it in person some time.

  7. Again, you take us on a wonderful, informative tour.
    I love the look of the barrels, too. Wonder how long it takes for one to do that?
    Thanks again for a great tour.

  8. Sweet Bay-Thanks for coming along. I hope you enjoyed that gorgeous day weather
    Pam- The whole idea of this garden was and the whole area was to keep it native so there really is no structure. The pathways lead you around the acreage taking in collections of cactus. Trees are well placed for shade. I think it is the perfect way to showcase desert plants. Lee wold like to introduce some art into the garden but understand that they do not have a lot of money. They cannot open the place to the public for functions because of the CCand RS. It really is like walking through a desert landscape- say Big Bend. Also quite similar to the Desert Museum in Tucson. I prefer this because the pathways are natural and not paved.
    Lisa- I hope you get to go there too. Just make sure you pick the right time of year.
    Linda-I suspect it takes many years for the barrels to pup up like that.

  9. Fantastic, thanks! As I type the rain is pummelling the windows here! Desert gardening is something I can't imagine...

  10. Great photos of the various plants. Glad you were able to visit this virtually unknown garden!

  11. Your photos and description are superb. Thanks so much for this wonderful tour. Barbara H.

  12. Three wonderful photo tours in a row. I enjoyed being an armchair rafter rather than doing the real thing. (But then to have to take a helicopter out; I am really glad it was not me on that trip).

  13. I met Lee Brownson this summer at Chanticleer garden at the APGA event and he extended an invitation to visit to my brother who lives in the Phoenix area. I'm going to visit him in March and plan on going to the garden. Your photos have tempted me and I am looking forward to seeing the garden.

  14. kate- You will love the garden and Lee gives a wonderful tour. choose a sunny day so all the flowers will be open.