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Walking Tour: Moorten Botanical Garden & Cactarium

September 28, 2010

Desert profusion

Going to Palm Springs on Sunday, when the mercury was supposed to reach 110º at least, would seem counterintuitive … but we did it anyway. The draw? Seeing the site of the “World’s First Cactarium”, of course! Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium was created by Keystone Cop, Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten, and his wife Patricia, in 1938. Located on an acre of land on the southern fringe of downtown Palm Springs, MBG&C seemed smaller than I had imagined it would be … especially since it boasts having 3,000 cactus examples on-site. But, I have to say it was just right size-wise, and although 3,000 might be a touch high, they do have quite an amazing array of plants on display, many of them rare, most very interesting.The property includes the Moorten’s family house with a small shaded grassy area that can be rented for private parties and weddings. If your taste in botanical gardens runs toward the slick and polished, you may not enjoy MBG&C … it shows its age and wear, in spots. But, if you love cacti and succulents (especially mature specimens), and rustic artifacts, both natural and manmade, this is a destination with definite historical cachet. Let’s have a look around, shall we? It’s not even 100º yet …

Big, old

Decades-old cacti and succulents here are like many of my own, only gigantic. It’s amazing to see how these older specimens take off in different directions, growing in ways I can only imagine my own might someday.

Barrelling uphill

A group of stout, very large barrels galumph uphill. Their rounded forms glowing in the bright sunlight of a morning that promises only to get hotter. I love how MGC&C identifies many specimens by hand-lettering their names on flagstone fragments.

Lushly varied

Euphorbias, aloes, agaves, and more, are clustered together, creating lush textural mosaics. The bright morning sun creates dark shadows among the wildly varied foliage.

Out of the lava

A lava-flow garden combines a rambling collection of cacti and succulents that contrasts smartly against the darker, porous volcanic rocks. It’s now so warm in the sunlight I can almost believe the lava rocks were made on-site.

Structural remains

The desiccated column created by the skeleton of a saguaro cactus rises out of the ground in a stately fashion. Its dried sinews have taken on the appearance of an enormous bone. I wish I could have seen it in its heyday.

World's first!

An unassuming hand-done sign over the doorway announces that we’ve reached the “World’s First Cactarium”! I wasn’t successful in finding a definition of ‘cactarium’ online, and I could find no evidence whether this is really the ‘world’s first’, but let’s just say it is. And what it is is a rippled fiberglass quonset hut-like structure. I’m pleased to see that the specimens inside are air conditioned. It feels like the temperature’s already risen a few degrees, so we go inside …

Insider's view

The cactarium is a long room with concrete and brick planter structures on either side, and down the center. But those are the only angles in the room; out of them explodes all manner of spiked and prickle-equipped cactus and succulent. They crawl up the walls and hang from the ceiling. They writhe and slither, laze around plumply and wave into the air … it’s almost overwhelming at first and I have to take a quick walk-through to deal with it. Then I start over… and look more closely. That’s when I begin to see all the strangeness and variety I enjoy most about these favored plants …

Astounding

Bubbly, ribbony, stubbly, scaly, prickly, fuzzy, fleshy, leafy; all these adjectives apply. I love how some plants combine root-y bits with leafy parts; how lumpy rolls can sprout pretty leaves; how button-tufted stubs are resplendently spiny. And, I’m not sure I saw everything, even now. The Cactarium is a pretty cool place … figuratively and literally. But it’s time to leave it, because there’s more …

Restfully rustic

Near the entrance to the rent-able venue and family house, a gorgeous chair made from an enormous root is the definition of stolid. Its ancient texture is welcoming and I have to sit in it. It’s really very comfortable, and somehow comforting, too.

Outside decor

Outside the family house and along the outdoor staircase, a terrific collection of items beckons with rustic charm. Including urns, jugs, driftwood, mineral specimens, religious statuary, Native American artifacts, and an awesome number of metates (stones for grinding grains and seeds to make flour), I wish I could bring it all home with me.

Take your time ...

At the entrance, a hand-lettered sign advised us to make like turtles and take our time … that by approaching the garden slowly we would see the most. And, it was good advice … Still, I almost missed the turtles themselves when I looked into their pen, they matched the ground so perfectly. An earthenware facsimile caught my eye, though, and seeing that they came into focus. In no hurry, they ate a salad of wilted romaine … I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them in this heat with that heavy shell on their backs. I know it’s over 100º now …

Rough and ready

There are plants for sale; some of the succulents and cacti I got the feeling hadn’t been grown at MBG&C, but I don’t hold that against them … I’m sure it’s an expensive garden to maintain. There are other things for sale here, too, like garden ornaments and various what-nots. But, it’s what was not for sale that I coveted most: Interesting and amazing rock specimens, more rustic artifacts, some very old, large chunks of petrified wood and twisty driftwood pieces, desert animals made of barbed wire. I wasn’t surprised that these things were out of bounds, I always seem to want that thing that’s unattainable! Oh, well. I am trying to cut back after all … and maybe it’s too hot to think about buying anything anyway. Looking at my trusty iPhone I see that the temperature’s already 110º! No wonder my skin’s kinda prickly and, in spite of my cap, standing in the direct-sun is blinding …

History's here

We’ve really enjoyed visiting the Moorten Botanical Garden & Cactarium, and I know we’ll be back — come winter! It’s got a terrific sense of history about it and even with the rough patches, feels loved. “Cactus Slim” Moorten and his wife created a place for showing and sharing their beloved desert plants. I think we owe it to them to support their efforts and visit their collection. Clark Moorten, son of “Slim”, now curates MBG&C and is an expert on succulent plants in America. He can often be found at the garden both working, and greeting guests.

Moorten Botanical Garden & Cactarium is located at 1701 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs CA, 92264.

Call (760) 327.6555 for more information.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. September 28, 2010 4:15 pm

    Have you ever seen a Madagascar Jewel?

    • reubix1 permalink*
      September 28, 2010 4:23 pm

      Yes, in fact I think I had one at one point … sadly, it died a terrible death. Not sure why but it shriveled and dried up soon after I got it.

      • September 28, 2010 6:45 pm

        That is too bad. I can see if my older one has any seeds if you would like.

  2. September 28, 2010 8:25 pm

    Wow what a great place that I’ve never heard of.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      September 28, 2010 9:46 pm

      I’m kind of embarassed going to it only now; I’ve known about it forever!

  3. Mrs. Marriott permalink
    September 28, 2010 11:10 pm

    I love that place! The thing I like best about Moorten’s is that their specimens are so old, and YOOGE! Glad you finally made it out! Did you do any thrifting while you were in town?

    • reubix1 permalink*
      September 28, 2010 11:31 pm

      I’m glad we came out to Moorten’s too — finally! We didn’t do any thrifting, rather we window shopped … that’s the next post so stay tuned!

  4. September 29, 2010 1:12 am

    You Inland Empire folk are hardy stock I must say..you couldn’t pay me enough to visit PS before November..well ok, so I was there last Sept , but only because I had a funeral to go to..I had all intentions of going back in early spring , with this garden on the agenda, but it was not to be..maybe next year ???

    • reubix1 permalink*
      September 29, 2010 5:09 am

      Hardy? More like foolhardy! It was HOT! Still, I was glad we went, it was a fun outing.

  5. September 29, 2010 8:12 pm

    i enjoyed your personalized tour of moorten botanical gardens. we went there about 6 years ago now. wow, can’t believe it has been that long-short time in cactus terms. i see that things have not changed too much. i remember we chatted with clark and took lots of photos (like you). i seem to remember birds in a cage and a broken down car…everyone should stop by and have a look as it is quite an amazing property.
    mike

    • reubix1 permalink*
      September 29, 2010 8:22 pm

      The birds were there: sweet doves cooing in the heat; sadly Clark was not. Maybe on our next visit. Thanks for commenting, Mike!

  6. October 14, 2010 4:01 am

    What a great place! You really described it well and the pictures are great! I would love to go there some day.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      October 14, 2010 4:04 am

      Anytime but during August would be a good time to go!

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  1. Walking Tour: Moorten Botanical Garden & Cactarium « Rancho ReubidouxYard decorations | Yard decorations
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