A peek inside the Cactarium at Moorten Botanical Garden in Palm Springs.
PHOTO COURTESY VISIT GREATER PALM SPRINGS
While our own backyard oases, with their sparkling pools and manicured lawns, may satisfy the itch to be outdoors, there’s no better place to see signs of spring than your local green space. You’ll encounter spectacular wildflowers on trails around the Coachella Valley, but if you’re not up for a hike, these botanical gardens also offer a serene escape from the bustle.
Shields Date Garden
Visitors love the restaurant and date-themed souvenirs and treats at Shields’ gift shop, and the garden path that winds through a series of biblical statues is a beautiful scene come spring. The walkway ventures through the 17-acre date farm, featuring citrus trees and a central pond with a fountain. Entry to the garden is $5 per person and free for kids 12 and under. A self-guided tour map with audio commentary about the scenes is available online.
Moorten Botanical Garden
Covering only an acre, Moorten Botanical Garden might be easy to miss if you don’t know where to look. Established in 1955, this privately owned arboretum is a “living museum of desert lore,” says Carolyn Moorten, co-owner with her husband, Clark, who grew up on the property that his parents founded. The couple live on-site in the Mediterranean-style Moorten family home, sometimes referred to as Cactus Castle. “While there is always something in bloom,” Carolyn says, “spring is our prime blooming season. We feature over 3,000 varieties of cacti, succulents, plants, and trees.” Entry to the garden is $5 for adults, $2 for kids age 15 and under, and free for children under 5.
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
More than 1,400 plant species native to the world’s arid regions call The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens home. The conservation-focused zoo was one of the first entities to practice “immersion” gardening (growing and grouping plants by specific geographic regions). From African ocotillo to Mexican bird of paradise, the cactuses, trees, and flowers in these gardens seem quite happy that they call the Colorado Desert home. Entry to The Living Desert is $29.95 per person and free for kids under 3.
Anza-Borrego Botanic Garden
Near the visitor’s center at the entrance of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Anza-Borrego Botanic Garden provides an ideal home for desert agave, which only blooms once in its lifetime, and other native species, including California fan palms, cholla and barrel cactus, mesquite trees, and palo verde. This time of year, you’ll wander among wildflowers, birds, and butterflies. Follow the easy 1.5-mile loop around Elephant Tree Trail to glimpse a rare Sonoran Desert elephant tree. Entry to the park is $10 per vehicle per day.
Sunnylands Center & Gardens is based on the works of impressionist painters. Statues dot the grounds of Shields Date Garden in Indio.
PHOTOS BY DANIELLA STALLINGER
Sunnylands Center & Gardens
It’s always sunny at Sunnylands, a 9-acre garden inspired by the impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings collected by late ambassadors and estate owners Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Among the nooks to explore: a rose garden, a stone labyrinth, mature olive trees, twin reflection pools, and 70 species of cactuses and other arid-adapted plants.
“There’s nothing quite as spectacular as the palo verde trees in April,” reports Sunnylands director Michaeleen Gallagher. “The trees, with their signature green bark, encircle the Great Lawn and line the entryway from Bob Hope Drive. In April, their canopies fill with thousands of yellow flowers. A gentle breeze is all that is required for yellow petals to rain down on our guests as they walk along the garden paths.”
The historic Annenberg estate continues to welcome world leaders for discussions promoting world peace and international agreement, a tradition started by its founders. While guided tours require tickets and advance reservations, entry to the gardens is free, and you can find audio tours of the grounds online.
Idyllwild Lilac Garden
Nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains, Idyllwild Lilac Garden (formerly known as Alpenglow) grows lilacs in 165 different colors — that’s 45 more than you’ll find in the big box of Crayola crayons. Founded by a former art teacher, who planted almost 300 lilac bushes when he moved to the area in the 1990s, the 1-acre estate opens for a short window each year while the flowers are in bloom: the last week of April through May, and only on weekends. Admission is free. 951-659-9711