In the charming alcove of South Palm Canyon Drive at the gateway to the Indian Canyons, Moorten Botanical Garden showcases about 3,000 cactuses and succulents from around the world through its lush grounds and oft-photographed “cactarium.”
Clark Moorten, the rugged, engaging second-generation host, oversees the garden and greets, at times, more than 200 guests per day. He explains his passion for cactus plants with an amused grin. “I was born with stickers in my butt,” he says. “My parents needed workers and I’m an only child. I must’ve been a good worker.”
Moorten Botanical Garden possesses an equally colorful history. It was created by Clark’s parents, Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten and his wife, Patricia. Cactus Slim was an original Keystone Cop and a stand-in for Howard Hughes. He developed tuberculosis on a film set and recovered in Cottonwood Springs, near Joshua Tree, where he panned for gold and collected beautiful cactuses. He learned mining was hard work and selling prickly plants paid better.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MOORTEN BOTANICAL GARDEN
In search of more customers, he came to Palm Springs, met Patricia, who also had an interest in succulents, and they bought the property, which became Moorten Botanical Garden, in the mid-1950s from renowned nature and desert photographer Stephen Willard.
Clark is known as an expert on succulent plants in America. He throws back his head with a deep laugh. “Wow! Really? Succulent expert? How’d that happen?”
But you will quickly realize the care, knowledge, attention to detail and concern he has for the plants. “Everyone should see the desert garden at the Huntington [Botanical Gardens near Los Angeles],” he says. “It’s taken care of by six different people. You can see exactly where each caretaker’s area begins and ends. Gardens evoke the personality of their caretakers when done correctly.”
VIDEO: Watch Clark Moorten points out areas of interest at Moorten Botanical Garden. (Video by Duke Hillinger).
Minutes from Moorten Botanical Garden, stay at V Palm Springs, a sleek, 140-room modern hotel owned by Los Angeles celebrity attorneys Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck. Nestled in the alcove as Highway 111 bends around to head off from Palm Springs to Rancho Mirage, V makes the most of its divine location near the mountains.
The lobby opens to the turquoise saltwater V-shaped swimming pool, flanked by wooden sun loungers with light sand-toned cushions and vibrant coral-orange umbrellas.
PHOTO COURTESY OF V PALM SPRINGS
Poolside seats at the V Palm Springs look directly at the Santa Rosa Mountains.
The Polynesian-inspired Elixir Pool Bar & Grill commands the opposite end of pool with its breakfast, weekend brunch, and sumptuous cocktails like “A Wet Dream” and “Desert Cherry Swizzle.” Every room in the two-storied hotel looks out over the pool and has its own hanging egg chair on a private patio or balcony.
A five-minute walk brings you to Europa at Villa Royale Inn for dinner. Formerly the home of Olympic figure-skating champion Sonia Henie, the exclusive, romantic setting combines the delightful romance of a European chateau with traditional Spanish California design.
Executive chef Kitt Fraser creates entrees with aroma and ingredient influences from the British Isles, France, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Malta. He traveled as a child to those destinations while his father, a naval officer, was stationed in England.
PHOTO COURTESY OF EUROPA RESTAURANT
Europa Restaurant at The Villa Royale Inn.
Fraser credits travel as his greatest influence in the kitchen. “A unique aspect to Europa is my use of spices through Moorish influences,” he says, “such as we have a scallop dish of Iranian influence, reminiscent of Adas Polo, which is braised lamb, lentils, basmati rice, root vegetables, and warm spices like coriander, cumin, and clove.”
VIDEO: Watch Kitt Fraser, executive chef at Europa Restaurant, prepare a popular dish, Angel Hair Pasta with Mixed Seafood. (Video by Duke Hillinger).
When asked about any desert aromas or influences he’s picked up since his arrival in the Coachella Valley, he immediately says, “Brussels sprouts. I prepare a duck breast with locally grown green and baby purple Brussels sprouts.”
Coming up, Fraser will add a “more approachable small bar menu. We’ll also feature more seafood pastas and other dishes for the summer, in addition to having the favorites like osso buco and the Scottish salmon.”
Europa is open for dinner Tuesdays through Sundays. Last seating is 9:30 p.m.
Moorten Botanical Garden, 1701 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-327-6555; www.moortenbotanicalgarden.com
V Palm Springs, 333 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-327-1211; www.vpalmsprings.com
Europa Restaurant at Villa Royale Inn, 1620 S. Indian Trail, Palm Springs. 760-327-2314; www.villaroyale.com