Chocolates with a Side of Cactus Garden?
Las Vegas is often thought of for its glittering lights and heady atmosphere of the Strip. That’s exactly what lost me about its appeal, even though Cindy and I had visited numerous times for gardening trade shows along with a few personal trips.
A few times down the Strip and we started looking for something other than the glitz and glam.
We found Ethel M and its unique botanical garden that focuses on cacti and species from the Southwest US and other countries with a similar climate. Cindy searched for something interesting and relaxing after the bustle and noise of a garden trade show and came across this treasure.
Ethel M chocolate factory – as in Ethel Mars – is part of the Mars family with the factory store housing the botanic garden in Henderson, NV just a few minutes south of Las Vegas. The self-paced tour runs along the dedicated viewing aisle next to the factory floor, then we sampled some excellent chocolates and had an unexpectedly good cup of espresso. Afterwards, we were ready for some botanic garden exploration.
We visited during an afternoon in early May with temperatures hovering around 100°F – not the best light for photos and I had left my usual camera at home, not anticipating a photo opportunity. Armed with my trusty cell phone and a couple of bottles of water, we ventured out into the garden, not quite knowing what to expect.
Impressive beauty and peace
Over 300 species of cactus, desert-adapted ornamentals and succulents are spread over 10 acres. Artfully arranged in intriguing and enticing groupings, the pull from flowers to cactus to trees made us feel something like the numerous bees and hummingbirds we saw.
The peace and quiet after the noise and crush of crowds was a very welcome respite. Plantings are slightly elevated, inviting an easy look into the details of the life growing there.
These early prickly pear cactus buds are mathematically gorgeous in their symmetry, blushing with an indication of their rich colors to come.
Abundantly blooming flowers were generously spread across the entire garden, with some reaching out with colors and others beckoning with aromas from 20 or 30 feet away.
We weren’t paying attention to the nameplates or descriptions of the flowers or plants but focused instead on the experiences of colors, textures, and aromas drawing us in.
Some plants and their flowers seemed as though they would be right at home as an attraction on the Strip, such as this one!
Given how close the I-515 freeway is the quiet and peace were impressive. The garden had a number of people in it but it never felt crowded.
This flower group had a sweet, perfumed aroma drawing us in from two plantings over. The trumpet-shaped flowers had dozens of small flying insects and bees attending them.
Colors ranged from white to purple with a lot of orange and reds represented. It was high season for blooms as very few plants lacked flowers.
The surrounding city disappeared from certain viewpoints, giving the illusion of a private estate garden or an undiscovered, undeveloped patch of exotic forest somehow forgotten.
We came away relaxed and refreshed, completely surprised by how wonderfully juxtaposed the experience was from the busy city just down the street. The rest of the day was just as enjoyable, and we realized that this was the best trip to Las Vegas we remembered, simply because of a visit to a garden.
We’ve learned to search a bit deeper for those unexpected garden treats like this!