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Awesome Redefined: Arboretum Review

Mark Zuckerberg, founder, CEO, and president of Facebook – and now Time magazine’s man of the year – summed up the movie The Social Network by saying that, when it came to portraying his life,  Hollywood fundamentally missed the point. He didn’t use money, girls, and access to parties and clubs as the drivers to develop Facebook, nor does he consider such things tobe the spoils of its continuing success. Instead, as he puts it in Time, the real motivator is the fact that he thinks “it’s an awesome thing to do.”

Subtract a few billion dollars, and the parallels of his successful personal philosophy and those of the staff at Boyce Thompson Arboretum are closely bound. In fact, career plant professionals in general are notorious for their single-minded commitment to plants, often to the exclusion of what others would consider to be a more typical family enterprise.  Not only is power, money, and attending all the right parties not important, neither are the normal imperatives to be fruitful and multiply. It’s amazing how many “plant people” I have known through the years who have chosen to remain single, or are divorced, or, if still married, then voluntarily childless.

Paul Taylor 2 2000x horiz

At first, I thought that it was an anomaly; that my circle of acquaintances was small and I needed to get out more. But the more widely I travel, the more I am convinced that there is something about plants that, in certain individuals, turns on either a monastic or an addictive gene. For them plants graduate from simple objects of affection – a geranium in a clay pot on the front porch, a 20 year old pothos draped over an end table in the living room – to hundreds or thousands of life-consuming tenants that require daily care and maintenance, leaving little room for a normal life.


For these people, plant-a-holism often affects them at an early age, but others are struck down in the prime of life. Broken lunch dates are the first signs, then emails go unanswered, and finally, brief cell phone conversations become one-sided Latin rants about some endangered subspecies of pincushion cactus found only on a lonely, south-facing hillside in Texas. The terminal stage usually involves the purchase of a distant tract of land and a double-wide trailer, the drilling of a well, and the establishment of a plant nursery. The plants grown are generally unusual plants, either in species or size, and reflect the particular grower’s affliction. It’s a maddening scenario for those of us who want to buy these plants, because the only affordable land is usually a half day’s drive – one way – from just about anywhere.


In all fairness, only a few of the staff at Boyce Thompson Arboretum can be considered to be pathologically plant-centric. What we all share, though, is the willingness to spend our working lives nurturing the thousands of plants that we grow – not because of the vast material gains that we know we’ll never receive — but because it’s an awesome thing to do.


Coming up on January 22 and 23 is Australia Days featuring Australian folklorist and didjeridoo player Paul Taylor. This year, for the very first time, Paul will be accompanied by Aboriginal Elder Bill Harney of the Wardaman people from the Northern Territory of Australia. Together, they will teach a didjeridoo playing class at 9am, with a storytelling and musical performance  in the Eucalyptus grove at 1:30pm both days. There will be tours of the largest collection of Australian plants in the United States, and a special interpretive tour by Bill Harney of the Arboretum’s new Aboriginal Seep Exhibit.


Coming up on February 11 – 14 is the Arboretum’s annual Language of Flowers. Every fresh cut flower and flowering plant in this 4 day show is chosen specifically to communicate its “lingua franca” — the language that is represented by each individual flower. Following two weeks later is the World Desert Fair on February 26 with plants, food, and culture from eight different deserts that are represented in the Arboretum’s extensive collections of arid land plants. Boyce Thompson Arboretum is truly an international garden exhibiting plants and plant communities from desert regions throughout the world and the World Desert Fair will highlight the unique cultures that have evolved in these desert environments.


Professional photographers like Jeff Kida of Arizona Highways Magazine, as well as thousands of amateur photographers, consider Boyce Thompson Arboretum to be one of the top destinations for diverse, photographic opportunities. To help improve everyone’s camera skills, we offer photo workshops several weekends each month from January through March. We also have  general and specialty tours every weekend so that every interest in the wonders of desert life is covered– from butterflies to trees to birds to wildflowers to geology, even childrens’ book readings and a monthly history walk. The spring season wraps up with the Spring Plant Sale on March 12.

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