A point of pride and necessity for Desert Botanical Garden is having a passionate staff that is knowledgeable about desert plants and landscapes. Since education has been a pillar of the Garden’s mission since inception, it was only natural that a program would be created around this expertise. In 1997, the Garden launched the Desert Landscape Certificate School program that provided education on all aspects of desert landscape installation and maintenance.  

At the time, the executive director, Carolyn Polson O’Malley, and superintendent of horticulture, César Mazier, were considering the idea of creating an interactive training for professionals and homeowners who were interested in learning about desert plants and honing their landscaping skills. After hearing a story from a friend of the Garden about a new landscaper who was removing wildflower seedlings that he thought were weeds, the need for this educational effort became evident. 

The program began as a 30-week workshop series taught by experienced Garden horticulturalists and focused on developing skills that would prepare students for the job market. Through a combination of hands-on and classroom learning, more than 100 participants graduated in the first two years. The program was later redesigned and a new model has been piloted and will be launched in the spring of 2017.

“For the Desert Landscape School we wanted to offer a program that included experiential learning and that was not limited to a classroom setting. The new curriculum is based around using the Garden as a living example,” says Tina Wilson, Director of Education. “Course material and content has been designed by education staff with professional training and experience in adult learning and curriculum design with the help of experts who work in the field.” 

The new Desert Landscape School program is presented as a certificate-based system with multiple entry points suited to the needs and goals of the students. When students successfully complete the attendance and assessment requirements for each of the six certificates, they earn the Desert Landscape School credential.  

The six certificate programs are:

  • Desert Ecology and Plant Biology 
  • Desert Plant Palette 
  • Planting and Maintenance 
  • Sustainable Desert Landscapes
  • Desert Design (pre-requisites apply)
  • Desert Landscape Installation (pre-requisites apply)

The Desert Landscape School is unique in that students learn directly from Garden horticulture staff and key faculty members who are experts in a number of topics including plant species identification, diagnostics and sustainable landscaping practices. In addition, the School provides an installation certificate and works with community partners such as Habitat for Humanity® where students get the chance to work out in the field and install a complete landscape. Along with the new certificate-based system, the Desert Landscape School is publishing a guide that will serve as the main study material based on current best practices for sustainable landscaping in a desert environment.       

“Living and working in the Sonoran Desert is a unique environment. We want to enable and encourage students to use sustainable landscape and horticultural techniques that further the conservation of the desert landscape. Each professional can play a role in educating their clients about sustainable landscaping practices,” says Wilson. 

To learn more about the Desert Landscape School and available certificate programs, click here.