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Chihuly Desert Glass Sculptures at the Phoenix Botanical Gardens

Arizona has its own beauty. With local cacti and a mix of desert, high desert, pine forest and mountains, it's truly splendid.

Chihuly in the desert: These balls are not far from the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden's entrance.

Chihuly in the desert: These balls are not far from the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden's entrance.

Chihuly Phoenix Exhibits in the Desert

Capitalizing on the many shapes of desert cacti, Dale Chihuly chose the gardens as one of his many exhibits. His work is featured periodically throughout the United States.

One of his pieces is a beautiful sculpture of an agave with lovely green striations. Other shapes blend beautifully in the desert garden exhibits.

A Glassy Adventure

It was one of those adventures that turned out to be well worth the money and time. A few years ago, the Phoenix Botanical Darden was host to the famous glass sculptor, Dale Chihuly, and featured his works from November 10, 2013 to May 18, 2014.

It just so happened we had been trying to think of a day trip that would be of interest to guests from California, and the exhibit had come just in time.

Dale Chihuly

Chihuly, one of America's premier sculptors, first became interested in glassblowing as an art form in the 1960s. His studio is referred to as the boathouse hot shop. He works in Seattle, Washington, and has an exhibit of his work not far from the Space Needle.

Well-respected internationally, Dale Chihuly displays outside the United States and is frequently commissioned to do pieces abroad. Much of his knowledge of glassblowing came while working on the island of Murano at the Venini glass factory.

He enjoys working with a team of skilled glassblowers watching a creation develop. As an artist, Chihuly uses a team approach to building his spectacular forms.

Follow the Paths

There are two paths at the entrance (Ottosen Entry Garden, Cohn Tour Gathering Area garden), each featuring a different emphasis on desert life. At the approximate meeting point of the paths was the Chihuly Glass Balls sculpture.

Constructed of colorful balls strung together like a huge grape cluster, it rose to about 20 feet. The different striped orbs were so interesting, while the colors reminded one of Christmas, appropriately enough.

Desert Ecosystems

Strategically placed throughout the desert gardens were wonderfully colored glass swirls and curls of drawn glass. Each shaped piece seemed to be possessed of great forethought and arranged with the cactus, trees, flowers, and bushes of the Arizona desert.

Plants from other deserts around the world abound. Collections vary from Australia and Baja California, including specimens from South America. A mesquite bosque, upland chaparral scrub, and semi-desert grassland are just a few of the ecosystems featured.

A beautiful sculpture resembling an exploding blue star - "Scarlet and Yellow Asymmetrical Towers" at the entrance to Desert Discovery Loop

A beautiful sculpture resembling an exploding blue star - "Scarlet and Yellow Asymmetrical Towers" at the entrance to Desert Discovery Loop

Beautiful Landscapes

As we walked the paths, the covered ground to the side was either a crushed sandstone, crushed granite, or the natural desert dirt and rocks of central Arizona. At times the glass sculptures had stones piled beneath them, as if drainage from the summer rainstorms mandated an inclined pathway away from the glass plants. They did actually appear to be living objects.

Inanimate they may have been, but these glass-blown forms exuded a living beauty. Notice my favorite sculpture in shape and color below, not unlike Medusa's head, but not of snakes, just lovely curls of woven glass intersecting a mythological traffic jam of energy. Its name is "Summer Sun."

This flowering tree sculpture - "Summer Sun" consists of 2,000 red, yellow, and orange hand-blown elements.

This flowering tree sculpture - "Summer Sun" consists of 2,000 red, yellow, and orange hand-blown elements.

Basic Facts About the Phoenix Botanical Gardens

  • The garden covers 50 acres.
  • All trails are 1/4 to 1/3 mile long.
  • The garden was founded in 1939.
  • It receives 400,000 visitors per year.
  • It's home to three eateries.
  • It was the "Knot Best of Wedding" winner in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
  • Garden admission is free on the second Tuesday of every month from 8 am to 8 pm.
Snake-like green glass winding through the garden

Snake-like green glass winding through the garden

Events and Activities

For years the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden has featured activities and events at the gardens at all times of the day. For example, in October of 2014, 13 events were scheduled. Here is just a taste of what entertainment was found at the desert garden:

  • The art of Flamenco dancing
  • A preview of the fall plant sale with reception
  • Bad Cactus Brass Band New Orleans Jazz with a flair
  • A discussion of gyotaku, Japanese art form using inked fish impressions
  • A reception with artist Joe McAuliffe
  • Music featuring Turning Point
  • Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent meetings
  • Traditional Mexican Halloween "Ofrenda," a place in the home where the dead are remembered, typically very colorful
  • The Sugar Thieves, more band music
  • Cuisine and Culture of Dia de Los Muertos
  • Dominican music, Tro De Mambo
  • The Great Pumpkin Festival (children’s crafts & activities, pumpkin, for children 12 and under, hayride pumpkin patch excursion, country & western entertainment)

This is just a sample of the monthly offerings at the botanical garden. In addition, special exhibits are featured, like the Chihuly display, on a frequent basis. A display celebrating the return of the Mariposa Monarcha Butterfly was featured in September 2014.

Purple sprouts around the organ pipe cactus

Purple sprouts around the organ pipe cactus

Don't Miss the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens

This is a place that is kid friendly. Between the colorful displays and those displays and activities designed for children, this is an enjoyable family adventure.

If you love to go to scenic locales, Arizona is the place for a camera. The light is magnificent, its intensity changing hues in the desert as the day passes. The shapes of the cactus and plant life—and in this case, the wonder of Chihuly glass—make this a favorite stop.

Between clicking the camera, walking the paths, smelling desert fragrances, and listening to an occasional bee with its melodic sounds, the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden is a must-see when in the Valley of the Sun.

For Locals

If you are a local, you know that gardening in the Southwest desert can be a challenge. Not only do you contend with heat requiring a knowledge of plants of the arid desert and special requirements to successfully raise non-native plants, but one needs a knowledge of the soil, plant diseases, and pests.

The Phoenix Botanical Garden has educators who inform the community on such things as conserving plant life, following good gardening practices, and helping folks with landscaping issues. Since water conservation is extremely important in this region, the garden is a precious asset to the community.

2021 Traveling Chihuly Glass Display Dates

  • May 1–August 1, 2021, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Where Are the Permanent Exhibitions as of 2021?

  • Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center Omaha, Nebraska
  • Toyama Glass Art Museum, Toyama City, Toyama, Japan
  • Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, Washington
  • Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Morean Arts Center, St. Petersburg, Florida
  • Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Columbus, Ohio
  • Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Washington


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Are there Chihuly Phoenix Botanical Gardens calendars that I can purchase?

Answer: There is a calendar of 2019 - 2020 exhibitions at There are no upcoming Chihuly exhibitions listed at the botanical gardens. You can see all the upcoming events through May 2019 at . You can also contact the gardens at (480) 941-1225 to see if they have information about Chihuly exhibits post May 2019. Thanks for the question.

© 2014 John R Wilsdon