Plants form the foundation upon which all other life depends, yet today one-third of all plant species on Earth are threatened with extinction. Since its founding in 1939, the Desert Botanical Garden has been a pioneer and leader in the protection of Sonoran Desert plants and a vital resource for protection of their habitats. At a time of unprecedented threats to entire ecosystems of native flora and fauna, the Garden must do more – far more – as the driver of a regional network of concerned and engaged institutions. Without action, the fragile desert environment we inhabit will not survive as the living landscape we cherish.
The Garden has created a Conservation Alliance, a network of stakeholders both within the Garden and beyond our borders to identify and prioritize conservation issues and to unify positive actions by all concerned. This is no small undertaking, and the Garden cannot succeed on its own. We are fully prepared to make changes within our organization to model the best practices for sustainable use of resources. In this, we will demonstrate our commitment and share our expertise with visitors and partners.
Much more will happen outside the boundaries of the Garden – in Papago Park, in the desert mountain preserves and parks of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Maricopa County and throughout the Southwest regional landscape. We will lead stewardship efforts for Papago Park, starting with the control of invasive buffelgrass, with students and other volunteers participating in a semi-annual buffelgrass pull. We will convene Conservation Alliance partners to identify conservation issues and challenges, agree upon priorities and develop strategies for successful conservation of the desert mountain preserves. We will issue a call to action to the communities of metro Phoenix and work to engage individuals and organizations in volunteer stewardship activities, including Citizen Science initiatives that can provide needed information for management of the desert mountain preserves. The Garden will also act as the leader and coordinator for a new Southwest Plant Conservation Alliance, a network of federal and state entities across seven Southwestern states to promote united plant conservation actions.
The Garden is an institution with a range of resources for training gardeners, fielding inquiries about plants, and educating school groups and the general public through formal classes and workshops. The Garden has established a reputation as the premier resource for the care and display of desert landscape plants. And yet, we have not done equally well developing best practices and sharing the Garden’s knowledge about growing vegetables and other edibles. The newly renovated Center for Desert Living Trail features the Steele Herb Garden and new Edible Garden sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. These exhibits greatly enhance the Garden’s role as a resource for home gardeners. To further advance our efforts, the Garden will develop and implement a strategy for engaging diverse citizens in sustainable vegetable gardening and for helping communities to create beauty, a healthier lifestyle and garden-to-table enjoyment.
Just as we are now the number one resource in the community for information about the care and display of desert landscape plants, we seek to achieve the same level of excellence with respect to growing vegetables and community gardening. We have developed a two step process. First, we have created our own community garden with the expertise of an outside consultant and will publish what we learn from this experience. Second, we will take our results and develop a community garden outreach program which may include on-site and satellite partnerships offering classes, workshops, tours and “how to” guides.
Already, seeds have been planted in our community garden pilot program, and selections from the harvest are featured on Gertrude’s restaurant menu.