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How Did Our Garden Grow? The Baepler Xeric Garden

A former UNLV president became a low-key champion for one of the campus's most beloved and peaceful spots.

Arts & Culture  |  Apr 12, 2010  |  By Cate Weeks

When the xeric garden outside the Marjorie Barrick Museum was installed decades ago, water-efficient landscaping just wasn't the fashion. Replace large swaths of grass with prickly cactus? The idea was not embraced. And administrators rejected the proposed location along Maryland Parkway.

But Don Baepler, former UNLV president and higher education chancellor, became a low-key champion.

The project likely appealed to the ornithologist in Baepler, says Dennis Swartzell, who oversaw UNLV's grounds at the time. "I think Don had a sneaking suspicion that the plants would attract birds he hadn't seen on campus before, and in time it certainly did," Swartzell says.

At the time, Baepler was director of the museum and suggested making the garden an extension of the Barrick.

Swartzell conceived the garden and local landscape architect Jack Zunino designed the 1.5-acre site for free. Zunino brought xeric designs to such valley locations as Las Vegas Premium Outlets, World Market Center, and Southwest Gas Demonstration Gardens.

A number of local businesses donated materials and volunteered labor. "After the grass was killed and the irrigation put in, however, I couldn't get a soul to come back out," Swartzell says. "It was going to be a shameful thing for me to have that unfinished patch of dirt in the middle of campus." In stepped Baepler, who approved using museum funding to cover some of the labor costs.

Baepler died in May 2008, and the garden has since been renamed in his memory.

Designed to be an extension of the natural history museum and Harry Reid Center for Environmental Studies, the garden features plants from Australia, South America, Mexico, the Mediterranean and plants native to the four desert regions of North America. Some of the plant-life found at the site includes: Blue Yucca, Agave, Eucalyptus, Jojoba, and the Creosote bush.

The garden features pathways, benches, covered ramadas, and wooden bridges. The Klinkhammer Bird Viewing Ramada at the north end is a favorite spot for visitors and campus walking tours. A pool and wall were designed into the site to create a water supply for migratory and local birds. Sandstone boulders were supplied from the base of Mt. Potosi.