Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium: Desert Eden in Palm Springs

The fearless explorers walk along the trail. Quiet. Ever on the lookout for desert flora and fauna. Suddenly, as they round the bend, they come face-to-face with a world of beauty in the guise of the Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium, just down the street from a good cup of espresso on Palm Canyon Drive. Palm Springs is like that sometimes.

We spotted this hummingbird flitting about the flowers seeking nectar.

To be sure, the Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium is a favorite old-time desert destination for cactus lovers from around the world. Located on one acre of Eden, and filled to perfection with hundreds of varieties of cacti and succulents from all over the world, it’s worth a little of your time and five dollars out of your budget.

Dinosaurs stand in stoic silence in the garden. They mean you no harm.

As you enter the garden, located on the south end of Palm Springs, you leave steel, pavement and glass behind, and enter one of the best attractions in the famous resort community. (If our bias shows, it’s purely intentional). The thought comes to mind; just who started this place?

Cactus Slim– From Silent Movies to Sexy Succulents

Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten. Photo Courtesy: Palm Springs Historical Society

Now, these majestic succulents didn’t just happen to pop up right on this spot, you understand. We can thank the sometimes damp climate of Hollywood, by way of a few gold mines near the town of Joshua Tree and Moorten Mills, the name of Chester’s original cactus collection, for bringing Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten to Palm Springs in the 1930s where he met his wife, Patricia, a horticulture and botany student at USC. Chester suffered from Tuberculosis early in his movie career, and moved to the drier desert climes for a cure. It seems to have worked.

It’s hard to believe you’re in the heart of Palm Springs while surrounded by so much lush growth.

Cactus Slim might have made it big in Hollywood if he stayed. He was featured in several early silent movies, including Buster Keaton’s 1927 film, “Cops.” Trust us when we say, we’re glad he came here instead.

Cactus Slim and Patricia opened their first nursery in 1938, Museo del Desierto, on five acres at the corner of Tahquitz Drive and Indian Avenue. Patricia and Chester became well-respected experts in the field of desert horticulture, and their collection of cacti grew over the years. They specialized in “everlasting bouquets.” The Moortens moved their garden to its present location in 1942. Although Cactus Slim passed away in 1980, his progeny still operates this amazing garden in the sand.

Whimsical pieces of art, old mining equipment , polished stones and petrified wood can be seen throughout the garden.

Each family of cactus is methodically catalogued, and placed along a series of easy access trails in the garden. In the summer, when the temperatures are comfortably into the three digits, you might consider carrying a bottle of water as you wander.

A few benches and tables surrounded by lush desert foliage make it an irresistible place to stop and be creative like sketching the locale.

Moorten Botanical Garden has thousands of rare succulents from Africa, plants from the Gobi Desert of China and South American giants growing right alongside miniature cactus from Canada on the nature trails that run through this living museum.

As many have learned, it’s never a good idea to hug a cactus. Look but don’t touch isn’t so much of a rule as it is just good common sense.

Together, Chester and Patricia turned their home-based hobby into a business that included the care and feeding of succulents, as well as landscape design. With their vast knowledge on the subject of desert horticulture, and their talent for designing the perfect desert landscapes, the couple was soon hired by famous locals like Walt Disney, Red Skelton, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby. Their exceptional works live on.

The tall height of many cacti here indicate how well they thrived over the years.
Follow the trail as it weaves in and out of habitats.

Clark Moorten, Chester and Patricia’s only child, now maintains the garden and its more than 3,000 varieties of cacti with all the aplomb and dedication his parents instilled him with. When explaining his legacy, Clark sometimes jokes that he was “born with stickers in my butt.” Born in Palm Springs 76 years ago, he is the continuity that keeps this garden alive and preserved after his parents passed on.

New sights await you around every bend at Moorten Botanical Garden and Showplace, as you can see from Jaylyn’s radiant smile.
The world’s first Cactarium.

Instagram influencers and travel bloggers from all over the world have made the world’s first cactarium famous. The unique greenhouse with its narrow aisles has become a social media star and it’s easy to see why. The cactarium features the rarest and most unusual of cacti and succulents from around the globe.

The Cactarium is world famous thanks to social media.

You will find plants from the Gil Tegelberg Collection, the late “Cactus King,” with the most famous collection in California. In 1997, Clark ensured many plants were donated to the Huntington Desert Garden in San Marino, one of the largest and oldest assemblages of cacti and succulents in the world, during Gil’s last days in Lucerne Valley.

This little girl looks like she’s enjoying learning about cacti in a desert biome.

Moorten Botanical Gardens offers a nursery on the well-kept grounds, where you can purchase a tiny version of your favorite cactus starting at one dollar.

Colorful pots and cacti can be found in the nursery.
Birds and animals enjoy the Garden too. You will find doves, and even two African tortoises on the property. Sometimes you may even spot John.

The Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium is about 1.5 miles from downtown Palm Springs and there is on-street parking. Tucked in the south end of S. Palm Canyon Drive, it’s easy to miss it if you’re not looking for the small sign and American flag flying proud at the entrance to the hedge-lined perimeter of the garden.

In 1955, the Moortens purchased three acres with a Mediterranean type castle built in 1929 for Stephen Willard, a renowned local photographer, and named it Desert Land Gardens and Cactus Museum. Much of it’s furniture was handmade by Cactus Slim.

Chester and Patricia didn’t have a long commute to their garden paradise. Maybe about sixty feet at best. Since 1955, the Willard House was where they hung their hats. It makes for a lovely venue for wedding and special occasions where much love and laughter has been shared over the years.

Please tell Clark we said hello when you go to visit! You will find him friendly and knowledgeable.

We here in the desert are incredibly lucky that Clark Moorten opens himself up to the world by lovingly tending and sharing the garden every day but Wednesday.

There is a $5 entry fee per adult, $2 for kids under 15 years old and free for kids under 5 years old. And in our opinion, it’s worth every cent. Check their website for hours, as seasonal hours varies.

Resources:

Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium Website

Volunteer at Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium. 

1701 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

760-327-6555

Jaylyn

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