The Treasures of Desertland By Steve Brown
11/09/2012 12:46PM ● Published by Denise Brown
Oneof the Coachella Valley’s greatest places to visit are also the easiest to miss if you’re not careful. One such location is Desertland, the Moorten Botanical Garden, on South Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs (just south of the turn where East Palm Canyon Drive splits off and heads toward Cathedral City and the rest of the valley).
Moorten Botanical Garden began in 1938 when Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten and his wife, Patricia, set up the botanical garden and cactarium (a cactus greenhouse). If I recall the story told to me by their son, Clark Moorten, who now runs the garden, “Slim” had been prospecting out near Cottonwood Springs and selling cactus on the side. At some point, it must have seemed that selling cactus was not only easier than mining, but more profitable, and the Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium, was born. Though the garden is small, it is filled with several thousand specimens of desert cacti and other dryland plants from the Sonoran Desert, Baja California, the Mojave, the Yuha, the Great Basin, and the Gran Desierto de Altar, as well as from Texas, South America, and South Africa. If you enjoy desert plants, you’ll love this little gift from the Moorten family.Clark often works at the garden, and the stories and history can be as interesting as the plants. Slim was one of the original Keystone Cops and a stand-in for Howard Hughes, while Patricia, a biologist, wrote a book on desert plants back in 1969. Clark is recognized as an expert on succulents, and a great source of stories from local history.
Wander among the agaves, boojum trees, organ pipe cactus, ironwood tree, vine cactus, and palo verde, and enjoy the view of the Moorten’s Mediterranean style home, “Cactus Castle.”
Think what it must havebeen like when the Moortensdesigned landscaping for thelikes of Frank Sinatra andspent time with Walt Disney and consulted on a project that would eventually become Frontierland.
The gardens may be rented for private events, and hundreds of weddings have been held on the grounds here. There’s a small admission to visit, and it’s worth every penny. You can also purchase some plants to take a little desert with you.
Moorten Botanical Garden 1701 S. Palm Canyon DrivePalm Springs(760)327-6555 www.moortengarden.com Open daily during season, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., closed Wednesdays