The Arizona Cactus Garden, first planted in the 1880s for Jane and Leland Stanford, was maintained until the 1920s. Since 1997, however, volunteers have been working to restore the garden. Today, volunteers rally around their passion for cacti gardening and enjoy the beauty of the plants.
Volunteer John Priola, who has been involved with the garden since 2009, explained how it has evolved.
“[The garden] has gone through various states of existence, but right now it’s really spectacular,” Priola said.
When the cactus garden was untended, it was full of weeds and dying cacti. Through his help with the restoration work, Priola has developed a passion for growing cacti and succulents.
“I get to see them grow there in their full glory,” Priola said. “So it’s really amazing to watch the cycle that they go through.”
Another volunteer, Naomi Mier, has been working at the cactus garden ever since her son began volunteering as a high school student in 2011.
“Over all of these years there is a core group of dedicated volunteers,” Mier said. “It’s just a great group of people and it’s a wonderful garden that we need to preserve.”
According to Mier and Priola, volunteers usually pick weeds, water the plants and help with new plantings — which usually means carrying around heavy plants and digging up a space for them.
As volunteers work to restore the garden, they keep its original victorian style design in mind. The cacti are also planted in such a way so that if looked down on from the sky the garden has the shape of a turtle.
Arizona Cactus Garden lead coordinator Christy Smith is grateful for the group of volunteers that have worked to maintain the garden.
“It’s more important than I can possibly express,” Smith said. “Without volunteers I would not be able to do this.”
As for the community’s reception of the garden, Smith said that many people visit to get away from pressing tasks in their life to enjoy the beauty of the plants.
“I think they enjoy the feeling of getting away and connecting with nature,” Smith said.
Smith shared how she has heard stories of people that visit the garden from the nearby hospital. One visitor, a cancer survivor, used to come to the garden during his chemotherapy treatments.
“That I find incredibly touching and special — that it’s not just significant to me but it’s really meaningful to a lot of other people,” Smith said.
Mier emphasized that the garden is something you cannot find anywhere else in California.
“This is free, it’s open to the public, it’s there for everyone’s enjoyment and it’s like this hidden little gem,” Mier said.
Contact Gianella Ordonez at gordonez493 ‘at’ student.fuhsd.org.