Forging New Paths

Three people stand at the entrance to the Desert Garden.

Ethan (left) and Joanne Lipsig initiated the Desert Garden Entrance Project, working with John Trager, the Bernie and Miyako Storch Curator of the Desert Garden and Collections. Photo by Sarah M. Golonka.

During Ethan Lipsig’s tenure as chair of The Huntington’s Botanical Gardens Committee, he helped develop a master plan to enhance the Desert Garden, one of the most notable and iconic landscapes at The Huntington.

After he stepped down from his role, he and his wife, Joanne, wanted to make one key component of the plan a reality. “That was the primary motivation behind our initiating the Desert Garden Entrance Project,” Ethan says of the couple’s generous gift to launch the effort.

Joanne adds, “We also wanted our gift to honor Jim Folsom,” the retired head of the Botanical Gardens and the couple’s longtime friend.

The project includes a redesigned entrance that provides a clear indication that visitors have arrived at the Desert Garden. In addition, 1,300 linear feet of fully accessible pathways will complete the pedestrian loop through the upper plateau of the gardens. The Desert Garden Conservatory will be renovated to improve public access and viewing of the rare plants collection. And the renovations will include an interpretive hub with a potting bench, where visitors can observe the garden’s operations, as well as enhanced displays of such specimens as Lithops, a stone-like plant from South Africa. An additional half-acre of the upper portion of the Desert Garden will open later this year, and it will feature a patio and footbridge with sweeping views of the landscape.

A concept illustration of the footbridge in the Desert Garden.

A rendering of the footbridge that will span the granite wash. The design hearkens back to The Huntington’s railroad history.

“The Desert Garden is one of the most significant and diverse desert collections in the country, if not the world,” says Nicole Cavender, The Huntington’s Telleen/Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens. “It features 60 landscaped beds of incredible plants that you just wouldn’t see together anywhere else.”

Ethan says: “We wanted to initiate a new era of investment in the Desert Garden because it’s one of The Huntington’s jewels. It’s been exciting and gratifying that others have shared our vision and contributed the funds necessary to bring the Desert Garden Entrance Project to fruition. But more still needs to be done to complete the rest of the master plan, such as upgrading pathways and developing an oasis at the bottom of the garden.”

The Lipsigs are most excited about the renovation of the Desert Garden Conservatory. Desert plants are particularly vulnerable to extinction because they can be challenging to propagate and because of their rarity, their susceptibility to pests, and habitat destruction. The renovation includes new infrastructure, retractable sides, and a shade structure that provides appropriate housing to protect approximately 2,000 plants from the myriad environmental conditions that threaten them. The Lipsigs are especially pleased that the renovation improves visitor access to plants that are too delicate to thrive outside.

“This project will allow us to give visitors a truly transformative experience,” Cavender says. “We are deeply indebted to the Lipsigs for their leadership and steadfast devotion to The Huntington.”

To support the Desert Garden project, please contact Amanda Greenberger, associate director of major gifts, at 626-405-2263 or