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Palo Alto, California

Arizona Cactus Garden

A hidden world of exotic succulents and cacti. 

Although this garden is officially called Arizona Garden, it is located in a remote enclave of Stanford University campus in California. The garden houses over 500 species of succulents and cacti from all over the globe and is divided according to region. Visitors can take a quick trip around the world through the world of cacti!

The garden was built between 1881 and 1883 for Leland and Jane Stanford on a site next to their proposed home. The neat, manicured style was considered old-fashioned in comparison to the more moden wild, naturalistic garden approach gaining popularity in the 1880s. However, the Stanfords’ only son died of typhoid fever in 1884, and the nearby home was never built (neither was the proposed manmade lake). The garden fell into shambles after WWII and it wasn’t restored until the late 1990s.

When the garden debuted, it was a favored place for students to take dates, evidenced by the lyrics to an old Stanford song: “Down by the cactus so silent and still/ the Junior has come to the question at last/ And love him? The maiden has promised she will.” There is no evidence that the suggestive shapes of many of the cacti had anything to do with it.

Today, the cactus garden remains off the beaten path for Stanford tourists and students alike. But behind the dusty, overgrown path you’ll still find the remains of a once-glorious Victorian display of exotic succulents and cacti.