The Desert Botanical Garden recently celebrated the opening of the Sam and Betty Kitchell Family Heritage Garden with a special dedication ceremony held Feb. 6.
The Sam and Betty Kitchell Family Heritage Garden is located just north of historic Webster Center and is home to many of the garden’s oldest plantings, including the iconic cardones (Pachycereus pringlei), and the first accessioned plant, the creeping devil cactus (Stenocereus eruca).
The renovation of the space interprets the garden’s story and vision for the future and features horticultural displays designed to be as treasured and compelling in 75 years as the giant cardones are today.
Located within the Kitchell Heritage Garden are two new spaces, the Cardon Plaza and the Fine Family Contemplation Garden.
The Heritage Garden features Baja California and riparian zones that begin at the entry gates and lead up through the Cardon Plaza. The landscape builds upon existing plants from the Baja California region collected during early expeditions by the garden’s first director, George Lindsay, as well as significant plant donations from Garden founders and collectors.
The Heritage Garden plantings notably include three large Mexican blue palms (Brahea armata) and more than 10 new cardones. Several very small cardones can be seen in cages to protect them from rabbits.
The young cardones were grown for three years by members of the garden’s Research, Conservation and Collections Department from the seed of the historic cardones and were planted in November 2015.
Designed to highlight the historic cardon display, the Cardon Plaza provides garden guests a place to sit, observe, photograph and enjoy these majestic plants. Even the paving of the plaza is designed to honor the cactus – the center shape echoes a cross-section of the amazing cardon.
The Founders Wall, centered in the Cardon Plaza, is comprised of glass circles that bring light and excitement to the space. The circles, of varying size and color, pay tribute to both the plants and people that have made significant contributions to the garden’s history and success.
The Fine Family Contemplation Garden provides a quiet refuge where garden guests may pause for reflection. The space is surrounded by columnar cacti and includes a labyrinth and reflective water feature to inspire meditation.
Generous donors to The Saguaro Initiative funded The Sam and Betty Kitchell Family Heritage Garden, the Cardon Plaza and The Fine Family Contemplation Garden.
The Saguaro Initiative is the garden’s strategic plan to renew and build exhibits, expand education opportunities, provide regional leadership, lay the groundwork for future plans and to continue to solidify the garden’s financial health.
The effort was launched in 2013 by the garden’s 75th Anniversary Cabinet, chaired by Bennett Dorrance, and is currently led by the TSI Cabinet, chaired by Ardie and Steve Evans.
The Sam and Betty Kitchell family’s relationship with the Desert Botanical Garden spans decades. Betty joined the Board of Trustees in 1989 and co-chaired the 1990 Dinner on the Desert gala. Their son, Jon, served as a garden trustee from 1992 to 1997 and served as co-chair with his sister Ann Denk, of the 1993 Dinner on the Desert gala.
Peter Fine and Rebecca Ailes-Fine made Arizona their home in 2001 and Rebecca quickly became involved with the Desert Botanical Garden to help fulfill her passion for nature and plants and to learn how to adapt to gardening in the desert.
Over the years, Rebecca has taken many leadership roles at the garden – as chair or co-chair of three Dinner on the Desert galas, as a three-term member of the Board of Trustees, as a cabinet member for two major campaigns, and as a member of the Children and Family Garden Study Committee and the Garden Shop Retail Task Force.
The garden sought to create a diverse team to shepherd this important project, coupling varied expertise with a shared vision for the Garden. The team was led by Elaine McGinn, director of planning and exhibits, and includes:
* Landscape design firm, Floor Associates;
• The entrance gates, Founders Wall and the new bridge were fabricated by Metalmedia;
• Garden Trustees Rebecca Ailes-Fine and Jeff Hebets;
• Volunteers Lee Atonna, Rebecca Berry, Carol Schilling;
• Garden staff members Beverly Duzik, Wendy Hodgson, Brian Kissinger, MaryLynn Mack, Kimberlie McCue, Darcy McGill, Raul Puente, John Sallot, Ken Schutz, Lauren Svorinic, Tina Wilson and Kenny Zelov.
A “Phoenix Point of Pride,” the Desert Botanical Garden is one of only a few botanical gardens accredited by the American Association of Museums. It is a privately funded, non-profit organization and depends on revenues from admissions and gift shop sales, as well as contributions from individuals and businesses to fund its programs of environmental education, plant conservation and research.