A new “Chihuly in the Garden” art exhibition opened at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, on November 10, 2013, while elsewhere much of the United States was snow deep in winter weather. The hand-blown glass art displays are outside under a perpetual wide-open sunny blue sky for visitors at Desert Botanical Garden until May 18, 2014.
The contrasts between the clean shiny glass and the sharp desert plants were at once apparent as we walked through the front gate. The cool colored “Sapphire Star” and “Blue Flori Sun” evoked warm greetings from the renowned artist, Dale Chihuly, as his two massive hand-blown art pieces immediately captured the hearts, and camera lens, of visitors.
Hand-blown Chihuly Glass Art Among Desert Plants
Desert Botanical Garden is a public garden made up of four loop trails and one Center for Desert Living Trail, which contains the Steele Herb Garden and the Edible Garden. The pieces of the “Chihuly in the Garden” exhibit are intermingled throughout the planting beds and along many of the trails.
At the Entry Garden, a rock wall guides visitors to a softened maroon mist of muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Regal Mist.’) We were enticed by the ornamental grasses mixing with cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia sp.) and long serpentine lime-yellow glass tubes, the ends each topped with an “eyeball.”
Signs are posted near each glass art display: On the nameplate is printed the name of the display and the year Dale Chihuly created the piece. The purple Neodymium Reeds, red Cattails and the black Niijima Floats were all made in 2013.
The Erbium Pink Flori found among a planting of succulents is dressed up with purple reeds, a tower of white and pink corkscrew stems and pink trumpet flower forms constructed with rippled petals.
While sitting on a stone bench in front of another rock wall, a visitor behind emphatically states loud enough for all around her to hear, “Wow!”
We are all staring at a long and winding single string of Mylar-looking “balloons” (Polyvitro Chandelier built in 2006) framed above by the iron arch in the Stardust Foundation Plaza. An up-close look reveals that the string is an illusion. A second separate smaller link of glass balls is set back among succulent desert plants.
In a phone conversation with Marketing Director John Shallot, Chris Eirschele of Decoded Plants asked how the weather impacted care for the glass art left outside. Shallot shared that since the displays are in the desert, a cleaning crew is tasked with dusting the precious pieces. Though the Chihuly glass art is thicker than it first appears – and tougher – the pieces will be taken down before the summer monsoons reach us here in the low desert of Arizona.
Desert Gardens in the Southwest
There are more than 50,000 plant displays grown on just 55 acres of the 140 total acres called the Desert Botanical Garden. The plants include succulents of aloe, agave and yucca and cactus collections containing red torch (Echinopsis huascha) and octopus cactus (Stenocereus alam) and creeping devil (Stenocereus eruca), to name only a few.
Birds are using a stand of boojum (Fouquieria colunnaris) as resting perches this morning. The tall succulent tree is related to ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) and, although boojum is cold tender, it is treated as a landscape tree around the Phoenix area. Boojum can be seen at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum east of Phoenix, too, but is only grown as a native in Sonora, Mexico, and Baja, California.
Trails like the Desert Nature Loop and Desert Wildflower Loop around the garden offer travelers a glimpse at desert plant and animal life. The Desert Living Trail offers local gardeners sustainable ideas for their own backyards. A collection of lavender plants (Lavendula sp.) and a bed of lantana (Lantana sp.) dotted by butterflies add color beyond the glass art in the gardens.
Artistic displays in the garden come in large and small doses. The sundial clock is made up of measurement lines of varying cacti. Coming out of the Desert Living garden, we were met by a collection of bonsai dishes planted with landscape plants very common in the Phoenix area: An elephant food (Portulacania afra) and a bougainvillea (Bougainvillea sp.) pruned short but flowering, extravagantly none-the-less.