Garden closes early Dec. 8-10 at 4 p.m. With Last Admission at 3 p.m. Due to Las Noches De Las Luminarias.


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 2014 winners!

Aimee Pierce

Aimee PierceAimee Pierce is a student at the Herberger Institute for Design studying for her bachelors degree in Landscape Architecture.

Getting to spend the summer interning at the Desert Botanical Garden was such a valuable experience. I was given the opportunity to work beside talented, experienced gardeners and alongside two creative, helpful, and knowledgeable individuals who have experience in the field of Landscape Architecture. Everyday there was something new to work on, something new to learn, new plants to experience and care for. I was privileged to have a hand in preparing the newest Desert Portal/Terrace project, and caring for valuable collection plants. My knowledge of the characteristics of desert plants grew immensely, and I have been able to apply that knowledge into my designs in the current semester, and will be helpful in the semesters to come.

I was also given the opportunity to work alongside a fellow BSLA student in creating a design for the DBG, applying skills and components learned thus far in my education, called “The Student Orientation Grove.” This project focused on an area within the garden that is currently used by the educational programs for children and outside school groups for learning about plants, preforming small experiments, and gathering into groups or teams before educational walks through the main portion of the garden. After scheduling meetings with the educational department and progress presentations with the horticulture department, we presented a colorful, child friendly, useful educational space that provided all the necessary components in plant materials to a handful of departments at the DBG.

This was a great internship experience, that allowed me to focus on the natural environment aspect of my future profession, and provided me with knowledge that I will carry with me as I continue my education.

Rebecca Mann

Rebecca Mann

Rebecca Mann is in her second year of obtaining a master’s degree in ecology from Utah State University, where her research focuses on broad issues surrounding rangeland management. For her thesisproject, she is investigating variation among populations of a native grass, Elymus elymoides, in their ability to tolerate competition from cheatgrass, a common invasive species in cold desert ecosystems. Understanding the degree of variation in native plants’ ability to compete with invaders and growth traits that are linked to this ability could aid in identifying source populations that have potential for successfully reseeding disturbed arid regions that are at risk of re-invasion.

A second project Rebecca is involved with for her master’s work focuses on assessing management techniques across common shrub-dominated ecological sites in Utah. Outcomes of the study will include field demonstration tours of shrub management and rangeland seeding techniques, and a handbook for ecological-site based management for Utah. Communicating our best scientific knowledge about ecosystem functioning to a management audience is of particular interest to Rebecca, because understanding concepts such as soil retention, benefits of species diversity, and ecological thresholds is key to making well-informed decisions that are sustainable in fragile arid systems.

After completing her master’s work, Rebecca hopes to continue work in the western United States, staying engaged with vegetation research, conservation, and the management community.

Sophia Essian

Sophia EssianThe first 10 years of my life I developed a passion for the natural environment. Located in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, my family and I lived on a sizable property offering many features. It was approximately a half acre of grassy lawn with pine trees aligning the edges. Two massive oaks were mounted in the front yard with two in the backyard as well. This home allowed my siblings and myself to play outside constantly with our parent’s approval. Outdoor activities included digging for worms, swaying on the rope swing, climbing to the top of trees, bicycling, rollerblading, hopscotch, chalk, catching bugs, sleeping in the grass, camping out listening to my surroundings, etc. These memories continue to bring me bliss and I crave nothing more than to design spaces where others can have similar sensuous experiences. As of now, I am on an eternal quest for knowledge. I want to pursue wisdom in the mounds of resources available to me.

As an employee at the Desert Botanical Garden for the duration of the summer in 2014, I did not just advocate stewardship, interdependence, authenticity, and accountability- I was able to implement the above core values with my bare hands. Even though my internship has come to an end, I will utilize my new-found knowledge and skillset, and apply it to my designs of outdoor public areas, landmarks, and structures in order to achieve environmental, social-behavioral, and aesthetic outcomes. After graduation, I envision myself working within the multidisciplinary field of landscape architecture incorporating botany, horticulture, the fine arts, architecture, geology, environmental psychology, geography, ecology, urban planning, etc. Eventually, I aim to have a design firm of my own that honors and reveals the local history and natural context of a site through the process of observation, creative interpretation, and construction. Regardless, I will approach each dawn with eagerness and I will endeavor the day’s endless opportunities.

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