I visit Salt Lake City fairly often. My stepson and his family live there. My husband, John, an ex-Mormon, researches and writes Mormon history. And so, between family and visits to archives and history conferences, we find one reason or another to make our way to Utah every year or two. Until now, we haven’t spent much time sightseeing there but with an extra day this time to do as we pleased we decided to check out the botanical garden that is located at the University of Utah.
Red Butte Garden has 21 acres of developed display gardens and many more of natural habitat. There was plenty of parking on the Friday morning when we pulled into the visitor’s center lot. Once inside, we paid our $12 adult admission fees ($10 for seniors/$7 for kids), looked around at the center exhibits and browsed through the gift shop. It was a sweltering day with a temperature approaching 100 degrees, but I was determined not to let that deter me from enjoying the visit.
Being mid-June the display gardens were at their best. Perennials, roses, trees and shrubs were all bursting with blooms. Because the garden was established in 1985, trees have had the time to mature, casting shadows on the ground below. John and I began our walking tour by choosing a path that promised a good amount of shade.
Red Butte is a popular venue for summer concerts and performances as well as educational programs and children’s camps. June through August, a guided tour is offered in the evenings when the sun is setting in the west and the heat is less intense. I’d been told that a lot of people book their wedding here and I could understand why. Every place we looked was picture perfect.
As we were beginning our stroll, a shuttle came around the corner, empty but for the driver, a tiny older woman that you would never expect to see driving an unwieldy tour bus. She stopped and asked if we wanted a guided tour. We climbed into the front seat of the open air trolley, happy for the opportunity to see some of the gardens beneath the shade of the rooftop and without having to walk in the hot sun.
As she drove along the main road around the perimeter of the display gardens, our guide pointed out interesting plants and answered all of our questions. The ride lasted about 20 – 30 minutes, and then ended back at the place where we’d started. We climbed out, admiring the large “Rainbird” sculpture that stood in a corner among some flowers. Suddenly, I realized that neither of us had remembered to tip the driver. I quickly turned, hoping to catch her but it was too late. The trolley had already disappeared around a corner. Pulling $10 from my purse, I chased down the road. The trolley was nowhere to be seen. How could it just disappear like that? I tucked the cash into my pocket, expecting that we would come across the lady driven trolley again before the day was done. The trolley won’t get you everywhere, but it’s a great resource for those who can’t walk long distances. And it’s free, although one should certainly offer a tip to the driver
John and I headed into the interior of the garden. I took a closer look at some espaliered pear trees. We also stopped to watch workers lay stone as they built a new section of the garden that we were told would display native plants. We walked past roses in full bloom and a gorgeous stand of foxglove. We sat on a shaded bench and chatted with a woman in charge of event planning who was setting up chairs for a wedding later that afternoon. We wandered past a planting of bright blue delphiniums and spotted a snake slithering beneath some bushes.
In the Children’s Garden, kids were having a ball playing in a feature that squirted them with random bursts of icy water. John and I moved away from the chaos and the noise and found ourselves in a quiet corner where a magpie was bathing in a puddle. He flapped his wings, joyously flinging shimmering droplets through the air.
Red Butte is not the largest botanical garden I’ve visited but it is one of the best maintained and it took us a good 2 hours to walk through the displays. The paths are wide and paved and wheelchair accessible. Most are fairly flat with gentle slopes although there are a couple of steeper hills that could be avoided. A hat and sunscreen are necessities during the summer months as much of the walk is in the open although there are plenty of places to get out of the sun. Bottled water is sold in the gift shop if you forget to bring your own. Go early in the morning to beat the heat or even on a day that is overcast. But go. It’s a gorgeous park and deserving of a 2 to 3 hour or longer visit.