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To advance undergraduate and graduate students.

The Garden Club of America Award in Desert Studies

For Graduate Students and Advanced Undergraduates

The Garden Club of America Award in Desert Studies was established to promote the study of horticulture, conservation and design in arid landscapes. The award, which can be in the form of either an internship or funding for a research related topic, is for advanced undergraduate and graduate students studying horticulture, conservation, botany, environmental science and landscape design relating to the arid landscape.

Students must be enrolled at an accredited U.S. college or university. While the award is intended to have a wide scope pertaining to the arid environment, preference will be given to students wishing to gain practical field experience -- specifically, planning and design for sustainability, rainwater harvesting and plant management, etc. -- through structured internships at accredited botanical gardens or arboreta.

Students wishing to intern should contact a local botanical garden to frame a plan of work that will guide both the intern and the garden staff in implementation and monitoring. This plan should include the time period in which the student will be available for internship. The student should also check with the student's advisor office to see if university credit will be given for the internship program, although academic credit is not required.  

Doctoral research field projects will also be considered for the GCA Award in Desert Studies, but will not have funding preference.

At the completion of the internship or proposed project, the student would submit a written report of achievements to both the accredited botanical garden or arboreta and the GCA.

Scholarship Information

  • Funds one or more applicants for one year at $4,000
  • Deadline: January 15
  • Contact:
    Mr. Kenny Zelov, Assistant Director of Horticulture, Desert Botanical Garden
    Phone: 480 481.8162

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Application Information

Candidates should submit the following required information to, with "GCA Award in Desert Studies" as the subject line:

  1. A current resume that includes:
    • Address, phone and email
    • Educational background including relevant education, work experiences and publications if any
    • Name of a contact person at the accredited botanical garden or arboretum where you would like to complete your internship.  Include a letter from the contact person confirming your acceptance into the program; OR
    • If not applying for an internship, a description of your proposed project
  2. A 1-2 page essay that includes the following:
    1. Your career aspirations
    2. Your specific interests in sustainability in the arid environment and what you hope to achieve through the internship if selected.
  3. Contact information for one reference qualified to describe the student's character and ability
  4. A letter of recommendation from your advisor, using the Academic Advisor Recommendation form (download form as a word document). Letter of recommendation should be completed, signed and sent to:
    Mr. Kenny Zelov
    Desert Botanical Garden
    1201 N. Galvin Parkway
    Phoenix, AZ 85008 

Dates & Award Notifications


Applications must be received by January 15.


Applications will be evaluated by a panel appointed by the Desert Botanical Garden and approved by the GCA scholarship committee. Applications will be judged on the qualifications of the applicant.


Award selection will be completed in early March. The GCA Scholarship Committee will notify the Award recipient by March 31. The Garden Club of America policy conforms with and strongly supports applicable federal and state laws that forbid discrimination on the basis of sex, disability, religion, age, national origin or sexual orientation with regard to the application for any of the scholarships The Garden Club of America sponsors.

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The Desert Botanical Garden, Administrator of the Garden Club of America's New Award in Desert Studies, is pleased to announce the 2015 winners!


Molly Freund is a student at Arizona State University pursuing her bachelors degree in Landscape Architecture, minoring in both Sustainability and Urban Planning. 

Being an Illinois Native, I never thought I could ever fall in love with the ecology of the Sonoran Desert. Spikes, spines, and serrated edges were not my cup of tea in contrast to soft grasses and lush trees of the Midwest. However, after being in Arizona for 5 years I now consider this scorching desert to be my beloved home. I have learned about how harsh Arizona landscapes can be, and at the Desert Botanical Garden I really dove into the beautifully chaotic world of desert gardening. 

I was fortunate enough to be given valuable knowledge and insight working under the Director and Assistant Director of Horticulture, who are both experienced in the landscape architecture field. They were more than happy to provide special guidance that allowed me to explore the world of plants while also being able to trace it back to my roots in design. They assigned a design project in the Garden that complimented my new found knowledge from the garden staff along with the experience I had acquired during my studies in the design field. They were my crucial mentors in connecting design and nature. I had a chance to get up close and personal with each area in the garden and work with the horticulturist that took care of that particular area. I had my hands in everything; propagation, irrigation, cacti, succulents, tree care, community gardening, wildflowers, assisting in plant removal, as well as the general care and upkeep of all the areas. Every time I learned something new from each individual, I became more enthralled about that particular subject matter. 

I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to be surrounded by passionate people who have invested their lives in the plants and wildlife they nurture. The internship has given me not only the chance to improve my design work through vegetative knowledge, but also helped me build a stronger bond among individuals who have the same passion and vested interest as I in caring for our beloved Sonoran desert plants.  This is one experience I will never forget.


I am currently working on my PhD. in Entomology and Insect Sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson. My research consists of determining the physiological mechanisms responsible for, as well as the ecological implications of, polymorphism in Hyles lineata, the white-lined sphinx moth. This is the most abundant and wide spread sphinx moth in North America and one of Arizona's most popular caterpillars for it’s massive emergences during monsoon season. The adults are important pollinators and the juveniles are generalist herbivores covering a wide range of environmental variation within their habitat. The caterpillar has several color markings and variations (polymorphisms) with little known about how or why- physiologically and ecologically. Polymorphism enables species to take advantage of a broad range of ecological niches that otherwise may be unavailable. Furthermore, polymorphism decreases vulnerability to environmental changes and change contractions, and increases range potential, populations stability and evolutionary potential. These benefits potentially contribute to this animals extremely broad capacity for environmental variation.

This summer I am running experiments to determine the effects of hot and cold temperatures, as well as long and short day length on the coloration of the white-lined sphinx moth caterpillar. I will continue with my yearly field surveys of caterpillars- determining what host plant they are eating, what color morph they are and what time of year they are present in the highest volumes. An element of this research includes help from citizen scientists; when large masses of white-lined sphinx moth caterpillars are occurring, observers can report sitings ( 


I recently finished my first year in the Master of Landscape Architecture program at the University of Arizona, and was fortunate to receive the Award in Desert Studies to support my summer internship at the Tucson Botanical Gardens (TBG). My interests in arid landscapes, water conservation, and horticulture are deeply rooted in my experiences as a native of Colorado and the child of an avid gardener. The internship was a great opportunity to spend a summer at TBG to learn about how public gardens operate.

I was tasked with two main projects during my internship at TBG; a rainwater harvesting plan and a comprehensive irrigation map. The rainwater harvesting plan sought to evaluate the current rainwater harvesting interpretation program and recommend improvements. My work involved a handful of site visits (both on and off the property at TBG), and research on rainwater harvesting techniques in the Southwest U.S. and around the world. I also took time to understand how interpretive programs are curated and how visitors interact with interpretive materials, such as signage. The final rainwater harvesting plan recommended adjustments and additions to the current program at TBG. 

The second project was an irrigation map, which was the first digital record of the complete irrigation system at TBG. Several horticulturists at TBG knew about the general location of the irrigation system, but did not have a map or plan for the system.  I was lucky to spend many hours with the horticulturists piecing together the puzzle. The final irrigation map will be a useful tool in the future when changes to the system are required, such as leaks. Several days per week I also worked with one of the Gardens’ horticulturists doing gardening activities, which greatly enhanced my knowledge of plant care and maintenance.  This hands-on part of my internship taught me valuable landscaping skills that will make me a better landscape architect. Many thanks to the Garden Club of America for this unique internship opportunity. I worked with a great group of individuals on a variety of tasks, and know that I will carry my new skills on throughout my career. 

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