Gardening in El Paso can go far beyond the the gravel and cactus that so many people believe is their only choice. A walk through the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens at UTEP is a good place to find inspiration.
More than 700 native plants make up the lush and colorful landscape nestled like a secret oasis next to the Centennial Museum. Bursting in blues, pinks and magenta, Salvia Greggi or Autumn Sage dwell in the deep dark corners of the gardens. Constantly in bloom, the Angelita Daisy’s seize the light and your eyes. The Yellow Bells are valued as much for its drought-tolerance as for its spectacular appearance. Its long throat and trumpet flowers attract hummingbirds in the assembly garden.
The gardens originated from an idea by UTEP administrator, Wynn Anderson, who was interested in native plants. The idea was to develop an appreciation of the desert as well as to introduce people to the idea of using native plants in their landscapes.
“A lot of people take the desert for granted, says garden curator John White, Some people consider it a wasteland and don’t see any value in it.”
Yet the gardens prove just the opposite. Sitting on nearly two acres, the garden path takes you through a beautiful variety of settings and habitats. The gardens are divided by themes including an arroyo garden, cactus garden, a sensory garden and others.
The gardens are open to the public, where people can get ideas for cultivating their own native plant gardens. Information on each species and how to care for them is on the museum’s website. One of the community highlights each spring is Florafest, a two-day sale of plants that work well in El Paso’s climate. Florafest has been going strong for 27 years. It is usually held in April, but this year a second Florafest is planned for May 6-7.
“We have a mix of plants that are native to the El Paso area, that you can find out in the desert. And then we have other native plants that are native to the northern part of the Chihuahuan Desert. We also have desert adaptive plants,” White says.
Plants are brought in from nurseries that specialize in native species, some come from as far away as Arizona.
Florefest also features workshops and talks by plant experts and local master gardeners during the sale to give buyers advice on how to care for plants at home.
White said new homeowners especially are often seen purchasing plants and replicating the habitats seen at the gardens.
“You can learn some of the plants names and some of the plants that are good to use in landscapes,” White says.
White said the big freeze that hit El Paso in 2011 killed a quarter of the plants in the garden and had to be replaced. The money raised from Florafest helps with the maintenance of the gardens and to buy new plants. Volunteers help with upkeep on the gardens.
“The main purpose is to develop enough revenue to keep the garden going for another year. A lot of people don’t realize that the garden is not financially supported by UTEP, so we have to raise the money to help keep the garden up,” White says.