I am smitten.
That’s a fancy way of saying I have seen the desert in bloom, and now I have a big fat crush on Mexican poppies, penstemon, lupine, brittlebush, spear-like agaves, canopies of yellow palo verde blossoms, the smell of eucalyptus, and the sound of the wind blowing through stands of cottonwood trees. Actually, it’s been a long-standing infatuation.
One of the best places in Arizona to see the desert in full, gorgeous bloom is the Boyce-Thompson Arboretum in Superior, located about an hour east of Phoenix. The arboretum, which is operated by The University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is the oldest and largest botanical garden in the state of Arizona (and one of the oldest botanical gardens west of the Mississippi, I’ve since learned).
The arboretum was founded in 1924 as a “living musuem” and spans about 392 acres along the old Queen Creek and the imposingly beautiful Picketpost Mountain, a volcanic remnant. We visited the desert in full bloom in mid-March, so we got to walk the trails during that golden time of year when pink parry’s penstemons spill onto every trail.
During our visit, the arboretum was holding its annual spring plant sale, where desert gardeners can find hard-to-find native and Australian desert species. Inspired by the spirit of the garden, we picked up a small eucalyptus tree and a pomegranate tree to start our own small collection of desert-friendly flora.
We walked the 1.5-mile primary trail, which takes you through a colorful cactus garden, palm and eucalyptus groves, an herb garden, and an Australian exhibit. Along the way, you can take your picture beside “Mr. Big,” one of the tallest red gum Eucalyptus trees in the United States.
We didn’t see any during our visit, but past visitors have reportedly spotted rattlesnakes, bobcats, javelinas, and gila monsters at the garden. We did spot what appeared to be a garden snake, hawks, a sprite pair of cardinals, and an up-close encounter with a turkey vulture and great-horned owl (which were being displayed by a local bird rehabilitation and rescue organization).
I had to stop myself from posting a dozen more pictures from our visit.
If you visit Boyce-Thompson Arboretum, check with the garden before your visit because the hours are seasonal. Guests are allowed to bring in leashed, friendly dogs. After your visit, you might want to explore the historic Arizona mining towns of Superior, Miami, and Globe, located about 20 miles east of the arboretum.
Superior, AZ 85273