Exploring the Desert Wonderland of Moorten Botanical Garden

The annual visit to Palm Springs, which is for Pat’s work, typically means I fill the days on my own – shopping, visiting museums, etc. This year Charles Phoenix recommended I visit Moorten Botanical Garden. And when Charles Phoenix tells you to go somewhere, you go!

A brown sign with yellow letters reads "Moorten Botanical Garden"

Home to over 3000 plant varieties, Moorten Botanical Garden also features the world’s first “Cactarium” which contains special and rare cacti. The garden is exceptionally beautiful, and, as the kids are saying, very “Instagramable.”

A plaque from the Palm Springs Historical Society and entrance fee sign.

Tall cacti and trees create almost a green tunnel over a dirt path.

A stone, etched with the words "Take your time like a turtle...and you will see more!"

Section of petrified wood.

Spiny cacti curve back toward the ground, while prickly pear cacti grow in the background with magenta fruit growing on them.

Tiny pink and yellow flowers bloom from the top of a cactus.

Exterior of the Cactarium, a green house like building with a curved roof.

A wood sign reading "The World's First Cactarium"

Inside the Cactarium, where various small cacti grow from pots and some even hang from above.

Various cacti and aloes grow among lava rocks.

Tall cacti known as "Shooting Star Cactus"

A broken down old wagon sits along cacti.

A large prickly pear with wide paddles and magenta fruit.

Yellowish-white selenite crystals.

A tall cactus with many sections grows tall next to a chair made from a stump.

Prickly pear stretch toward the sun.

Various cacti and aloes grow among lava rocks.

Tall thin cacti stretch toward a blue sky, a tree nearby branches over them.

Not only is this a gorgeous little place to visit, it has quite an interesting history. It all started with a man by the name Chester Moorten, better known as “Cactus Slim” for his tall thin frame. Originally from Washington, Moorten built railroads and worked as a lumberjack, before heading to sunny southern California where he fell in love with cacti. He soon found work as an actor in the silent pictures, but his stardom was cut short when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He headed to the desert, where he began working in mines, as well as collecting and selling cacti. But soon, he was making more money selling cacti than he was in the mines! In 1933 he moved to Palm Springs, and opened a small cactus museum in 1938.

The following year Moorten met a bright horticulture and botany student from USC named Patricia Haliday, and in 1940 the two tied the knot. Patricia was originally from Ohio, but fell in love with desert plants at a young age, and moved to California at the age of 17 in 1937. Together they opened a nursery, “Museo del Desierto” and began making a name for themselves in the landscape industry.

After a few moves, they purchased a Mediterranean style home built in 1929, and dubbed it “Desert Land Gardens and Cactus Museum.”

Their wealth of knowledge and vast nursery meant they were the go-to people for landscaping in the desert, and soon Hollywood’s elite who had purchased vacation homes in Palm Springs were asking him to landscape their getaways. His clients included Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Walt Disney. So pleased with their work, Walt had them serve as consultants on Disney’s 1953 documentary, The Living Desert, and asked the pair to design the landscape and provide the plants for Frontierland at Disneyland.

Over the years they lectured on desert plants and tourists flocked to their home and gardens, which was eventually re-named Moorten Botanical Garden.

A small Mediterranean style home with two large palm trees.

Various bits of old mining equipment.

Tall cacti stretch upwards, while trees with small green leaves stretch outward.

Various cacti grow among pieces of petrified wood.

Various bits of old mining equipment.

A small Mediterranean style home with two large palm trees.

Many cacti that are tall and thin stretch upwards toward a blue sky.

Despite his early battle with tuberculosis, Cactus Slim lived until 1980. And while the idea behind a cactus museum may have started with Cactus Slim, Patricia is really an amazing icon herself and was extremely active in the Palm Springs community. She was the co-founder and board member of the Desert Museum, Palm Springs Historical Society, and the Palm Springs Women’s Press Club. She was the president of the National League of American Pen Women, ambassador of the Palm Springs Chamber of  Commerce,  and commissioner for Palm Springs Parks and Recreation. She was also responsible for bringing the PTA to the Palm Springs School District. Plus she received numerous awards before passing away at age 90 in 2010. Today Moorten Botanical Garden is owned by their son.

Because of their significant impact, both Patricia and Cactus Slim received stars on Palm Springs’ Walk of Stars, located at the Village Green, in the heart of Palm Springs among other early pioneers of the area.

A large dark red star reads "Chester 'Cactus Slim' Moorten Actor/Botanical Desginer"

A large dark red star reads "Patricia Moorten Pioneer/Botanist/Historian"

Moorten Botanical Garden is located at 1701 S. Palm Canyon Drive. As it is located in Palm Springs, it has unique hours due to the extreme heat of summer, so please be sure to visit their website before planning your visit.

What’s Nearby?

Palm Springs Aerial Tram

Palm Springs Air Museum

Palm Springs Village Green Museums

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery

Breeding, Ashley. “A Thorny Situation.” Palm Springs Life 1 Nov. 2017. Web. Accessed 5 Mar. 2019.
Brown, Renee. “Meet Palm Springs’ beloved Cactus Slim.” Desert Sun 18 Aug. 2017. Web. Accessed 5 Mar. 2019.
Explore Palm Springs: Celebrate the Cactus.” Palm Springs Life 27 July 2018. Web. Accessed 5 Mar. 2019.
Niemann, Greg. Palm Springs Legends: creation of a desert oasis. San Diego: Sunbelt Publications Inc., 2006. Print.
Patricia Moorten Obituary. Desert Sun. 16-21 July 2010. Web. Accessed 5 Mar. 2019.

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