Art adventures: Desert Botanical Garden

I get all the really fun mail at our house, like the Sonoran Quarterly magazine pubished by the Desert Botanical Garden for members and friends — which James showed me just as I was sitting down to write this post.

I decided to feature the Desert Botanical Garden, which we’ve been members of for many years, after spending part of the day there while my son Christopher and students from one of his SCC science classes did a Garden field trip Thursday afternoon.

We arrived after a morning doctor appointment that left us no time to run home for walking garb — so I enjoyed my first Garden visit decked out in high heels. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of paved trails it was easy to explore, making this a perfect place for professionals seeking a lunchtime stress buster.

Because my profession is writing, I spend a lot of my time observing, listening and forging connections between ideas. Thursday I witnessed the work of Garden staff and volunteers during their final hours of preparation for “Las Noches de las Luminarias” — and annual event “where the Garden comes to life with more than 8,000 hand-lit luminaria bags and eleven musical groups performing nightly.”

You can tell a lot about an organization by the way people work together. Seeing these staffers and volunteers ready the Garden made it clear that this is a place of creativity, teamwork, attention to detail and just plain joy. I hope you’ll make time this season to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

A garden is a naturally splendid setting for Christmas decor since greenery already abounds. Add oodles of red poinsettias, white lilies and other holiday decor — including an especially striking mobile featuring different sized milky white glass circles just outside the formal Garden entrance — and you have a truly magical bit of living art.

But don’t go simply for the evening luminaria event, because the Garden is every bit as spectacular by day. This was my first trip without a camera, which freed me up to see details I hadn’t fully appreciated before — the metal bridge and sculpture with a beautiful rust-colored finish, the elaborate stonework throughout, the glass tiles with botanical images recognizing special donors.

It’s clearly a hit with kids because as I was strolling around, I heard lots of children talking and laughing just around one of the Garden’s many winding paths. They were on a field trip with The Family School, a place we’ve known and loved for its child development expertise and genuine caring for families since it opened in 1992. The group was sporting multicolored green, blue and yellow tie-dyed t-shirts, and they looked to be having the time of their lives.

The Garden presents so many opportunities for children to learn, create and explore. Art and science are more closely linked than most folks realize — and this is a great place to ponder the connection. When my children were younger, this was a favorite haunt for drawing with sketchpad and pastels.

This trip I was especially intrigued by the origins of various plants — many from the American Southwest and Mexico, but also plenty from places afar such as Africa, Madagascar, Argentina and Cuba. Teachers and homeschooling parents must find the Garden an incredible resource for everything from cultural anthropology to geography.

Take your children to the Garden and see if they can find other plants in the poinsettia’s family. I saw one near the entrance that couldn’t have looked more different than the red plant we associate with Christmas, and it made me eager to learn more about the rest of this vast and diverse group of plants dubbed Euphorbiacecae.

I stumbled on (not literally, of course) several cacti and other plants with names kids might find intriguing — such as the pencil cactus. Have your kids draw their image of this plant before you go, then take the drawing along to see how it matches up to the real thing.

Animal lovers will be intrigued by the plethora of plants sporting animal names — there’s Sharkskin Agave, Bear Grass, Beavertail Cactus, a Giraffe Tree, Bunny Ear Prickly Pear, Hedgehog Cactus and more. Looking for them makes a fun treasure hunt type activity for a family outing, play date or birthday party.

Try taking pictures and using them to make flash cards of various plants, then make flash cards of the corresponding animals and see how many ways you can turn these cards into matching or other games that help with plant identification, memory and more.

The Garden features many educational exhibits and signs, including a set of 32 animal pictures you can lift to find intriguing animal facts. I saw several of the featured animals during my Thursday visit — including hummingbirds, ground squirrels, jackrabbits and quail. There’s even a notebook in which visitors can record their own Garden wildlife sightings.

Others cover everything from “ecological convergence” to the “Saguaro Hotel,” which details this plant’s many uses for various creatures with kid-friendly illustrations. Think restaurant, sundeck. balcony, water supply, security system, plumbing and more.

Add the Garden gift shop, event pavilions, places to grab delightful grub and enjoy musical entertainment, and you have a rich collection of art and nature that’s a feast for all the senses. Dig in. No utensils required.

— Lynn

Note: This year’s “Las Noches de las Luminarias” at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix runs select days from 5:30-9:30pm through Dec 30, 2010. Member-only dates are Dec 2-5 and general public dates start Dec 9. Tickets are $20/adults and $10/children for members and $25/adults and $12.50/children for the general public. Children are those ages 3-12, and children under age 3 are admitted free. Group rates and private group dining options are available. Learn more at www.dbg.org.

Coming up: Local artists reflect on Valley arts & culture, More art adventures, Musings on the new “Narnia” flick, Balancing baby and Broadway

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