Wandering the West
April 28, 2009
Park City is a great winter resort town, but as far as I’m concerned, once the lifts close it can stop snowing anytime. More snow fell Sunday and there was a hard frost Monday. This is a tough place for gardeners and gardens. But down at 4,200 feet in the Salt Lake Valley, it has been spring for some time now. Enough time for some pretty great gardens to go into full bloom.
I generally like wild places, where the landscape architect is nature. But a relaxing walk through the Mormon Church headquarters last week reminded me that you can get pretty spectacular landscapes by fielding an enormous pile of bulbs and an army of volunteer gardeners (if you’re of the faith, you can serve a "gardening mission" on Temple Square).
Temple Square itself is a maze of construction fencing this spring, so it has lost a lot of its charm as a destination with great gardens to ogle. But after seeing what’s growing there, linger to the east of the 10-acre square, and walk through what used to be Main Street, where fountains and gardens disguise the roof of a church parking garage. The real gardening gem is east of there, on the block where the Mormon Church headquarters building is. Here water spills over the flat edges of a big fountain in the center of the block. The water is channeled on down toward the temple and every color and shape of tulip and daffodil is in full bloom as you wander along the waterways.
I used to think tulips came in one shape and the three primary colors. On the headquarters block they have tulips the size of grapefruit in every color from white to a deep purple that’s very close to black. And they come in nearly as many shapes as colors. As flower gardens go, it’s relaxing, beautiful and free.
If your feet get tired, drop into the stunning marble and stained-glass-ceilinged Joseph Smith Memorial Building (the old Hotel Utah), plop down in a big easy chair and listen to the pianist pound out music to match the flowers. Very civilized.
Up a little higher, just south of the University of Utah campus, Red Butte Gardens is likewise blooming. It claims to have 150,000 daffodils blooming now, but they’ll be fading away soon to be replaced by other hardier, summer varieties. A new rose garden opens this spring. Red Butte specializes in plants that survive and thrive in the Utah climate, so it’s a good place to go for ideas on what will survive here without a lot of money or pampering. In fact, Red Butte bills itself as Utah’s "ecological and botanical information hub," ready with advice and tips for people who want to try their hand in their backyards.
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Of course most people know Red Butte for its summer concert series, and tickets go on sale next Monday for the likes of Smokey Robinson, Diana Krall, the Indigo Girls, Wallflowers, Bonnie Raitt, Etta James and more.
Then if you want your gardens over the top, head south on I-15 and exit at Lehi for Thanksgiving Point. This is a big complex of all kinds of family-friendly stuff from a dinosaur museum to a 3-D giant-screen theater, an 8-screen megaplex and a Johnny Miller golf course. There are cutesy shops, restaurants and a petting zoo, but most of all, a sprawling 55-acre garden complex composed of 15 separate theme gardens, like the Monet Garden and the Secret Garden, which isn’t exactly secret. TG Point claims to have 250,000 tulips blooming now, as its annual Tulip Festival draws to an end Saturday. Four miles a trails wind through the 55 acres. You can spend several hours saying "How pretty!" or having to hear that expression from your significant other.
If you wonder why this garden oasis sits on the edge of brown gullies in northern Utah County, I happened to be there the day ground for it was broken. Alan Ashton, a BYU professor who became a gazillionaire after inventing WordPerfect, the first universally used word-processing software, wanted to say thanks for all his blessings and give back to the community. It’s now a pretty busy place between all the activities. Just don’t come on Sunday when it’s closed. This is Utah County, after all.
The Mormon Church gardens are free, but you’ll have to pay to get into the other two. Pick any of the three and you’ll enjoy a colorful garden stroll instead of Summit County mud.
Free-lance writer Larry Warren has been wandering the West covering news stories for television and magazines since he landed in Utah in the mid-1970s. In this column he writes about the favorite places he goes back to when he can.
THE VITALS: Park City to Temple Square: 31 miles
Park City to Thanksgiving Point: 50 miles