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01 Oct 2019

In Praise of Plants: The 14th Annual Desert Garden Community Day Celebrates the Desert's Varied Vegetation

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Now that the scorching summer temperatures are (mostly) behind us for the year, it’s appropriate to think about doing things outside. Like, for example, gardening.

That means it’s a perfect time for the 14th Annual Desert Garden Community Day, taking place at the University of California, Riverside’s Palm Desert campus on Saturday, Oct. 26.

The annual event is a production of the Desert Horticultural Society of Coachella Valley, which got its start in 2005 at The Living Desert, thanks to a small group of locals who shared a love for the environment and its native plants. When the society was founded, there were only 30 members, but today, the nonprofit counts almost 500 members—and the free-to-all Annual Desert Garden Community Day is its biggest event, put on with help from UCR Palm Desert and the UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardner program.

“The focus this year will be on growing native plants and exactly how to have a successful experience,” said Tracy Merrigan, president of the Desert Horticultural Society. “There will be free classes, hands-on projects for kids and adults, and booths with environmental organizations including this year’s sponsor, the Desert Water Agency.”

Plant-health advisers will be on hand to answer questions and offer tips on how to plant vegetables and other vegetation that can thrive in the valley’s hot weather.

“You can have a lush, beautiful garden that is also irrigation-friendly to our dry environment,” Merrigan said. “The reason we are so heavily focused on desert plants this year is because last year, we received an abundance of inquiries asking how to plant flowering succulents and wildflowers. So we just bounced off that idea.”

While deserts in general are often viewed as barren, Merrigan said that is not necessarily the case.

“The one thing that has entranced me by the desert is how lush (it can be),” Merrigan said. “There are so many birds and lizards. You can interact with wildlife out here unlike any other place. You can get up close and see how magical it all is.”

The event will cover more than just plants and how to grow them; it’ll also include lessons on how to design gardens and landscapes themselves. Merrigan said it’s even possible to plant grass in the desert—and keep your conscience clear.

“Many of the desert plants have been hybridized from other species that have been planted,” Merrigan said. “They change; they are very adaptable. This class will show you that you don't have to go completely native. You can still be water-friendly and environmentally friendly and have grass in the desert.”

To support ongoing education and help the future of horticulture, the Desert Horticultural Society for the last five years has awarded local scholarships to students attending the College of the Desert who are majoring in horticulture, landscaping or golf-course management. This year, two scholarships will be awarded during the Annual Desert Garden Community Day.

Attendees can also enjoy food vendors, kids’ activities and a plant sale by UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners.

“It’s just a happy day,” Merrigan said. “Everyone has a smile on their faces. This year’s speakers and clinics will be fun and amazing.”

The 14th Annual Desert Garden Community Day will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 26, at UCR Palm Desert, 75080 Frank Sinatra Drive, in Palm Desert. Admission is free. For more information, visit deserthorticulturalsociety.org.

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