Carefree Desert Gardens: A Desert Jewel

October 2, 2023

October is a welcome time to get back outside as temperatures start to cool. Desert or xeriscape demonstration gardens provide a fun way to enjoy the outdoors with the family. Since many of the gardens have shady places to enjoy a picnic lunch, you can plan to spend some time exploring and enjoying the surroundings as you build ideas for your home landscape. This is just in time for fall planting. Visit our Demonstration Gardens page to find one near you, and learn more about our featured demonstration garden below:

Mass of cactus and succulents
This planting of cactus and succulents is near the famous Carefree Sundial sculpture.


Visit Carefree Desert Gardens

Look no further than a few miles in the North Valley to find a horticultural escape known as Carefree Desert Gardens (CDG). Whether you seek solitude, gardening information, family entertainment or simply appreciation for desert plants, this is the place!  Its small 4-acre size makes it easy to enjoy works of local sculptors, the famous Carefree Sundial, entertainment events, the artistically designed fountain and water features, all nestled among specimen plants whose arid habitats are worldwide.

What You’ll Find

Here plant lovers will see splendid specimens of Quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma), Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), crested saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea forma monstrosus), Adams tree ocotillo (Fouquieria diguetii), giant viznaga (Echinocactus platyacanthus), Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) and many others.  Included in the design are mass plantings of golden barrel cacti and strategically placed groupings of columnar cacti (e.g., crested cereus (Cereus hildmannianus forma monstrosus). Meticulous eyes will spot the most outstanding specimens, now decades old.


Three plant pics
Left – Boojum Tree, Center – Penstemon blooming with an Mexican Fencepost as a backdrop, Right Hildmann’s Cereus (monstrous mutant) meaning twisted stems and crested points.

Bringing the Garden to Life

Years ago, the site of CDG was nothing more than a sandy open space where visitors and business owners parked their vehicles. In 2002, the Town of Carefree made the bold decision to create a garden. The current hardscape was created, irrigation was installed, and native landscape plants were planted. In 2011, a local landscape company collaborated with the Town to beautify the garden. In the ensuing months, they brought in truckloads of boulders, thousands tons of dirt and stunning plants. With few exceptions, CDG remains as it was installed then.

This stunning columnar cactus, Pachycereus weberi or Candelabro, is native to Mexico where it occurs in the states of Guerrero, Morelos, Oaxaca and Puebla.

With the help of volunteers, a logo and walking tour map were created. The map followed a path of carefully selected plants for which signage was developed and installed. The plant list was made part of the walking tour map that was available for visitors to pick up at a Sundial kiosk. As part of an educational arm for CDG, a horticultural seminar series was implemented featuring presentations by experts in their fields. These are still running today on the first four Saturday mornings of each calendar year. In an official ceremony, Carefree Desert Gardens was dedicated on November 13, 2011.

For more than 20 years, Carefree Desert Gardens has been a landmark, encompassing all Carefree represents – a love and respect for the Sonoran Desert, education, art, and family.  We are blessed to have such a jewel in the center of our Town and encourage everyone to share in the experience.

Fun, desert-inspired structures like the Gila Monster slide and scorpion water feature are favorites with kids.
Mass of barrel cactus
See masses of Golden Barrels in different locations.

Inspiring Other Gardens

It wasn’t long before other municipalities took notice of the CDG project. Following the Town’s leadership in creating a stunning town center landscape and horticultural program, others began similar water-wise beautification projects. As Mayor John Crane says, “For more than 20 years, Carefree Desert Gardens has been a landmark, encompassing all Carefree represents – a love and respect for the Sonoran Desert, education, art, and family.  We are blessed to have such a jewel in the center of our Town and encourage everyone to share in the experience.” Today Carefree Desert Gardens stands as a pioneering creative endeavor, demonstrating far and wide, the unparalleled beauty the desert provides to those who just take the time to look and appreciate.

Plan for a lovely afternoon and see for yourself. You’re in store for a most memorable treat!

Quiver tree aloe
Visitors enjoy seeing this beautiful Quiver Tree Aloe, Aloe dichotoma.

Carefree Desert Gardens is a public botanical garden located amongst shops, restaurants, and businesses in downtown Carefree at 101 Easy Street. Situated on four acres, visitors can stroll and enjoy rare and fascinating desert plant specimens on a self-guided walking tour.

Photos: Steve Priebe and Donna DiFrancesco

Water – Use It Wisely is proud to feature guest bloggers who write about topics related to water and water conservation. The author of this blog, Pamela Slate, is a retired Maricopa County Master Gardener. She is the past Chair for the Carefree Horticultural Seminar Committee and served as a Horticultural Coordinator for the Wallace Desert Gardens. Pam also served as a Vice President on the Board of Directors and as a member of the Collections Committee for Boyce Thompson Arboretum.