The Great Pumpkin Festival

Writer Rebecca Zaner
Photo above by Adam Rodriguez

The Desert Botanical Garden is open to the community year-round, providing opportunities for nature lovers to experience the beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Throughout the year, many events are held to showcase different seasons and holidays.

The garden is preparing for another season of warm and cozy favorites. Welcoming fall is an enjoyable time of year for families across the nation. Here in Phoenix, it can be a different experience than that of colder parts of the country. But the Desert Botanical Garden aims to please the Valley with the same beloved fall traditions — no matter what the weather brings.

The Great Pumpkin Festival takes place this year from October 21-23. The event is open to members (who receive free admission) and to the public with the purchase of admission. At the festival, guests will find a hayride that leads to the pumpkin patch, where children 12 or younger are invited to choose their own pumpkin to keep. Families may of course purchase pumpkins, as well. There will also be a hay-bale maze and a tent where visitors can decorate pumpkins. Carnival games are also available, as well as special visits by some barnyard animal friends.

Unique to the Desert Botanical Garden, guests can visit the community garden to learn how pumpkins and vegetables are grown. Folk, country and bluegrass music will accompany the event, and guests are encouraged to dance along. Family-friendly live music will be provided by DJ Dana, Run Boy Run and the Arizona Bluegrass Association.

Admission includes activities and the hayride. One pumpkin is free to children 12 or younger and available for purchase to all others. Food and beverages, pony rides and Harvest Market items are available for an additional charge. All festival tickets also include complimentary entrance to the garden during the day.

This year, guests may purchase lunch items from Valley food trucks, drinks and snacks through Fabulous Food Fine Catering and Events, and kettle corn through Kettle Heroes.

“We have many new additions this year,” says Amber Hahn, special events manager. “Every year, we try to change our hands-on activities. While this year’s new activities have not been announced yet, we do have many new crafts and yard games, such as checkerboards and tic-tac-toe boards.”

The festival is a fun outdoor event that families can enjoy. Because it is all outdoors, it is important for guests planning to attend to come prepared for the weather.

“We suggest that all of our guests bring water, sunscreen, hats and comfortable shoes,”

says Hahn. “Remember the basics of outdoor festivals. Also, pets are not allowed at this event, even though it is outdoors. Other than service animals, those wishing to bring their pets to the garden can do so on our special Dogs’ Day coming later this year.”

Guests should also note that the event takes place in two different locations of the garden. The hayride serves as the connecting component between both locations. The events plaza houses the carnival games and concession vendors. Then hop on a hayride over to the hay-bale maze, pumpkin patch and the adjoining community garden.

“The Great Pumpkin Festival has been a seasonal favorite for more than a decade,” Hahn shares. “We have definitely seen an increase in attendance over the years and our popularity expands as our garden grows. This event used to be held in one small area of our event lot, but after the expansion of our events plaza, we’ve had more space to support more festivities, including the addition of food trucks and more games and activities. With the addition of our community garden, we were able to then include that in our Pumpkin Festival.”

It is definitely a long process to create the magic of the Great Pumpkin Festival. Staff members begin preparation in late June. It takes about four to five months for the festival to come together. Alongside staff members, the garden is run by mostly volunteers. It is the large number of volunteers who assist with each large event that make them so memorable and special. Those wishing to become a volunteer for the Desert Botanical Garden can apply and go through special volunteer training to keep up a professional business.

“I’ve been on staff with the garden for over five years, two in my current position as special events manager,” says Hahn. “This is my second year assisting with the Great Pumpkin Festival. One of my favorite things about this event is taking time to stand in the middle of the events plaza and have a 360-degree look. This is when I truly experience kids having fun and families dancing — I can really take it all in and see everyone happy and having fun.”

The Desert Botanical Garden features many fun events throughout the year. Keep your calendars open for all the fun coming up this year: Dia de los Muertos Celebration (October 29-30), Dogs’ Day in the Garden (November 5), Chiles and Chocolate Festival (November 11-13) and Las Noches de Las Luminarias (November 25-December 31). Music in the Garden will also be available on certain days throughout the remainder of the year, featuring professional musicians amidst the garden’s natural glory.

The Great Pumpkin Festival is open one weekend only, so don’t miss it! On October 21, the event is open from 8:30 a.m. to noon. On October 22-23, the event is open from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Don’t let the heat of a Phoenix summer keep you from enjoying the start of a new season. We may cool off a bit later than most, but a good celebration is still in order to get into the fall spirit.


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