Stanford University’s Arizona Garden is a hidden gem found on Quarry Road, between Campus Drive and Arboretum Road. The garden, designed by landscape architect Rudolf Ulrich for Jane and Leland Stanford in 1881, contains a variety of cacti and desert plants.
The garden was originally created for the Stanford family’s enjoyment, but was later opened to the public. Julie Cain, a historic preservation planner specifically in charge of the Arizona Garden, said, “In the Gilded Age, people would display their wealth through extensive gardening, and because of California’s Mediterranean climate, lawns were very hard to keep green. What was special about the Arizona garden was the relative rarity of the plants.”
One significant plant in the garden is the Carnegiea Gigantea, native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona; the blossom of this special cactus is also the state wildflower of Arizona. They had to be collected and brought to California and were not an easy find. Due to the rarity of the plant, theft was a big issue. According to Cain, the majority of plants are desert plants, making them very “adaptable to changes in the environment.” For many of the plants, Ulrich traveled during a colder month as he was going by train to find these plants and bring them back.
Cain stated that the cacti and other succulents’ “ability to store water is what made [the travel] happen.” Ulrich also did drainage while planting which helped with some of this adaptability. Originally, Chinese gardeners took care of the plants, however in the early 1920’s, Cain stated that “the last Chinese gardeners went back to China, and so the garden went under the wraps for years with little care because of its relatively isolated location.” She added, “[In the 1920s and 1930s] the garden was just this big wild mass of plants. It’s much cleaner now.” In the 1990s, the garden truly came back to life and “solidified as a specific project.” This was the result of requests from community members and students.
Cain continued, “In some ways, I still think it’s a big secret on campus. Even though there’s many people who love it and go to it on a regular basis, many of those people are not necessarily from campus but also from the local community.”
The beautiful and exotic plants in this garden are worth the extra trek, and I highly recommend paying a visit.