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Thanksgiving Point: Galaxy of gardens

New theme gardens open this week at Lehi attraction

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LEHI — A remarkable woman is about to unveil her wish, her hope and her dream. Her gardens at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi are opening July 14, the crown jewels of the Thanksgiving Point Institute.

Karen Ashton bubbles with excitement as she talks about her new gardens, which include theme gardens and a children's garden. Altogether they cover 55 acres.

She says there's an old Irish saying that goes something like this:

"Come in the evening, come in the morning,

Come when expected and come without warning.

Thousands of welcomes you'll find here before you,

The more that you come, the more we'll adore you."

"I found that rhyme in a book, and I love it," she said. "I just want to say to everyone, Come. Come any time. Here, somewhere, you'll find something to feed your soul."

She considers the gardens a place to meditate, to reflect on the bounties of life.

"In putting things in perspective, you need to take time to reflect. There is no better place than a garden to do that. Whether a garden is a natural place, which the Lord himself planted, or whether it is a place that someone else planted for peace and serenity, it does the same thing for me," said Ashton.

In spring you'll see things coming up out of the ground, she said.

In summer the sun drenches the trees and leaves with sunlight.

In autumn the colors will be vivid, and everything is giving its last hurrah before the quiet of winter.

"Let the gardens work their magic for you," she said.

Garden magic and miracles motivated Ashton to build these gardens.

"During times of trial in my life I have tried every day to connect with the Creator. This has been very important to me. In our asphalt and concrete world, we forget from time to time to remember that somebody else is ultimately in charge."

She offers this perspective on her gardens, "I have always tried to leave the world a little bit better. Wherever I've been, I'm involved in making something more beautiful. This is an overwhelming opportunity to do something on a grand scale. I could not pass it up. I thought about it for years, and it is exciting to finally see it come to pass."

It is her expression of gratitude. "I planted it to leave something beautiful — and to say thanks; thanks for my life, thanks for my heart, my eyes, the ability to breathe, the blessing of peace, prosperity, health and all those things. Not only to the Creator but as thanks to the people who have surrounded us over."

Lehi may seem an unlikely place to plant a garden of this size, but Ashton loved this spot from the beginning.

"When I came here, it was like I had found a place. I guess you could say "deja vu" or whatever you want to call it. But I felt as though I already loved the spot. This little valley was a place where you could come, and there was nobody else around."

The garden layout is spectacular.

The Thanksgiving Gardens have different theme gardens ranging from natural to formal European designs.

The names reflect some wonderful geographic, artistic and familiar designs.

There are the Grand Alleé, Shepherd's Hill and the Creek gardens; there's Monet's Water Garden, the Rose Garden and the Vista Mound, which offers a 360-degree view of the entire landscape.

Indulge your senses at the Fragrance Garden and step back to Victorian England in the Secret Garden.

The Italian Water Garden, the Parterre Garden and the Butterfly Garden are more formal with outstanding visual displays. The amphitheater is a magnificent outdoor setting for concerts and performing artists.

The Waterfall Garden reportedly has the largest man-made feature of its kind in the country. It is 85 feet high and 600 feet wide. More than 40,000 gallons of water per minute flow over seven separate waterfalls.

Two lakes, connected by a meandering stream, cover some 2 1/2 acres. Water is recirculated by a series of pumps to conserve water. More than 300 waterlilies are planted to add more beauty to the lakes.

The garden staff, under the direction of horticultural director Bob Stenquist, has put in a dazzling number of plants. The selection includes 4,000 flats of annuals, 2,500 rose bushes, 4,000 flats of ground cover, 10,000 trees, 15,000 shrubs and 38,000 perennials.

When you visit, tour the children's Discovery Garden, with a water feature re-creation of Noah's Ark. The underground caves and the eco pond offer children of all ages a chance to learn more about the world around them.

Ashton describes the Garden Railroad in the Discovery Garden as a "Grandpa-getter."

"What Grandpa can resist taking his grandkids to see these wonderful trains?"

With more than a mile of track and an outdoor layout covering an acre, the Garden Railroad features trains and accompanying accessories from around the world. Frontier towns, European villages and other areas will bring back childhood fun for everyone who visits.

Her dream has come true, admitted Ashton, as she reflected on the legacy of this beautiful garden.

"I have always dreamed of having a place where people would say, 'Please let me come and walk through your gardens and heal for a minute in a quiet place.' "