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 2016 winners!


Tom BulinskiI am a recent graduate of Mesa Community College in Phoenix, Arizona. I studied horticulture, specifically landscape design and nursery operations. In my final semester I was awarded the Garden Club of America Scholarship for my proposal to rejuvenate a section on campus known as the Xeriscape demonstration garden. The garden was originally installed in 1989 to highlight some of the beautiful native and desert adapted plant material.

Over the years the garden had become overgrown, major maintenance and reinvigoration was desperately needed. I saw this as an opportunity to showcase all the disciplines I had studied in my two years at MCC. The project was broken down into three major stages. This first step was to assess, prune and even remove some of the plants in the area. The next step was to upgrade the irrigation system throughout the garden, making it a more dependable, longer lasting system. The final stage of the project is the design, integration and planting of new material.

Since graduating, I have started the process of getting my contractor’s license. I plan on starting my own landscape design and build company. My future goals include starting a boutique landscape nursery and a wedding facility. I am grateful for the award I received from the Garden Club of America, and I am thrilled that I was able to give something back to my alma mater and community.


Ava ChengI am a recent graduate of University of California, Santa Barbara, with a degree in Environmental Studies, and will be applying to graduate programs in Landscape Architecture at the end of this year. I was happy to receive the Desert Studies scholarship this year to help support my internship with the Garden Allies project at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. The project is a part of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s Citizen Science program, and focuses on identifying insect visitors on native California plants that are beneficial to the home gardener. The goal is to identify native plants that will help the home gardener use less chemical inputs in their gardens. With the Director of Education, I work on gathering literature, outreach, and insect collection.

Through social media channels and personal interactions with the Botanic Garden community, I educated people on the benefits of insects in home gardens, and why conservation biological control is a more sustainable means of pest control. Some of the popular native garden plants we have studied included Brandegeei sage, Island Pink Yarrow, California Buckwheat, and Verbena De La Mina. Insects are collected over the plant’s blooming season and after to track differences in abundance and species richness. I hope that the knowledge I gain during this internship, specifically on which California native plants can be used to create a more sustainable habitat.


Tucker Hancock

I am a recent graduate of the Landscape Architecture program at the University of Colorado, Denver. As part of my research for the GCA Award in Desert Studies, I worked to digitally model the design for the newly opened Steppe Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens, which now houses a collection of plants from the steppes of North America, Asia, South Africa and Patagonia. During the design phase for the garden, my model and analysis helped the team study how manipulations in the ground plane would create microclimatic variation with respect to changes in slope and aspect, exposure and sheltering. My work with the Denver Botanic Gardens and a continued fascination with the steppe environment on Colorado’s Front Range has become the foundation for a test plot in Denver examining how local plant communities and features of the surrounding steppe landscape might be translated into designed urban contexts. With guidance from the Denver Botanic Gardens, I am examining particular native and exotic plants that are hardy, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, and adaptable to conditions of the city. 

I am grateful for the funding I received from the Garden Club of America, and gaining this valuable experience will benefit me in my future endeavors.

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