Salt Lake City's unintentionally best-kept gardening secret is about to become a little less of a secret. Red Butte Garden is throwing a gala festival to introduce the new visitors center and expanded setting. The long-awaited event is happening this weekend, with all the horticultural revelry you'd expect.
The new visitors center is named for Dr. Walter Pace Cottam, a noted University of Utah biologist who helped create Red Butte Garden. He was founder of the State Arboretum of Utah, which later became Red Butte Garden and Arboretum. He spent more than 30 years at the U. and was a nationally recognized conservationist. One outstanding aspect of his work was being the co-founder of the Nature Conservancy. He also hybridized 43 species of oak, which are still included as part of the arboretum's collection. Cottam assembled a collection of many species of trees that are part of the arboretum's campus tree collection.The visitors center will have a classroom, educational material and a botanical bookstore. The new facility and expanded garden were made possible by private gifts through a $5 million fund-raising campaign begun four years ago.
The Red Butte Garden has developed from small and humble beginnings as a part of the State Arboretum on the University of Utah campus to a significant regional botanical garden visited by thousands of people each year.
Many delightful parts of the garden along Red Butte Creek have already been developed. They include the Dwarf Conifer Collection, the Perennial Garden Walk, the Idea Garden and the Wildflower Garden Meadow. Plantings are being expanded significantly as the garden moves into its next phase of development. Under the leadership of director Mary Pat Mattheson, the gardens continue to expand each year.
With the additions, the gardens are now much easier to get to. Sitting at the mouth of Red Butte Canyon above the U., principal access used to be via the narrow maze of roads through Fort Douglas. Now the entrance has been moved to the new visitors center at the end of Wakara Way, just above the University Research Park. In addition to the visitors center, the new Shirley S. Hemingway Four Season Gardens features plants that are attractive all year round. Said Mattheson, "We intend for this garden to attract wildlife and visitors so there will never be an off-season in the garden."
The established gardens along the Red Butte Creek are connected to the foothill gardens via the new Dumke Floral Walk, which is lined with bulbs, blooming flowers and shrubs. Four miles of mountain interpretative trails will also be reopened. The paths wind through 12 different plant and animal habitats in the protected natural areas surrounding Red Butte and are open to self-guided tours that interpret the geology, animal and plant life.
Educational features of the garden are also significant. According to W. Richard Hildreth, director of education at the gardens, "Visitors will be surprised at the diversity of habitats and plant materials they will see. The gardens are our outdoor classroom, with flowers, shrubs and trees and animals. The new Courtyard Garden and the Mediterranean Garden and the others previously mentioned will expand, as never before, our offering of plant materials and ideas on how to use them."
Hildreth develops and hosts numerous educational activities throughout the year. Among the most popular are the Spring Garden Workshops and the Thursday Garden Get Togethers.
Garden Get Togethers cover a wide range of subjects in all different areas of horticulture. To learn more about apple varieties and apple tasting, for instance, stop by from noon to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, for a program by Jerry Goodspeed and me.
The schedule of events of the gala grand opening of Red Butte Garden is as follows:
- Friday, Aug. 26: Members only - (free admission to members)
4-7 p.m. - Behind the scenes tours and demonstrations
4-5 p.m. - Dr. Paul Cox, Brigham Young University, "Sustainable Tropical Forests"
5-6 p.m. - Barry Knabe, Beehive Chefs Association, "Fruit Pizzas, Tarts and Tasty Treats"
6-7 p.m. - Jim Wilson, "Landscaping with Herbs"
7-8 p.m. - Live entertainment, amphitheater stage
- Saturday, Aug. 27: Public grand opening ($3 adults/$2 ages 4-15, members free)
9:30-10 a.m. - Ribbon cutting
10-11:30 a.m. - Greek dancing, amphitheater stage
11 a.m.-noon - Jim Wilson, co-host of TV's "Victory Gardens" on PBS, "American Garden Trends"
12-1 p.m. - Larry Sagers and Jerry Goodspeed, extension horticulturalists, Utah State University, garden clinic
1-2 p.m. - Fred Lilijegren, ASLA, Bureau of Reclamation, "Waterwise Landscapes"
1-3 p.m. - Live entertainment, amphitheater stage
2-3 p.m. - Kevin Jones, Division of State History, "Ancient Gatherer Peoples on the Shores of Lake Bonneville"
3-4 p.m. - Jim Wilson, "Landscaping with Container Plants"
4-5 p.m. - Bill Varga, director Utah Botanical Gardens, USU, "Mountain Men and Women in the West"
4-6 p.m. - Live entertainment, amphitheater stage
5-6 p.m. - Panel: "Trees to Cool the Desert: Selection and Care"
6-7 p.m. - Dr. Ty Harrison, Westminster College, "Pioneer Garden Heritage"
Continuous events for families include garden tours, discovery hunt, newspaper forest and demonstrations, Tracy Aviary, hawk watch, snakes, cacti and succulents. For children: Project Wet, Project Wild, Project Learning Tree; games, videos and a visit from the Utah Museum of Natural History's "Backyard Monsters."