Utah’s Botanical Garden—Red Butte

Red Butte Garden Concert Series, sponsored by Harmons

Harmons is deeply involved in our community, and so is Red Butte Garden. So the fact that we partner with them is pretty much a no-brainer. Today’s Taste of Harmons Podcast guest is Eddy Dawson. He’s the director of programs at Red Butte, and he joins our hosts Chef Lesli Sommerdorf and Brandon Young to talk about something a little different from food we eat—the plants we grow.

Red Butte Garden is a museum of living plants, according to Eddy. Its history is long and storied. In the beginning, Dr. Walter Cottam, a professor at the University of Utah from the 1930s through the 1960s, had a special interest in plants and trees. He shared this by planting them in the ground around him, turning the University of Utah into part of an arboretum.

The History of Red Butte Garden

Eddy shares the interesting story of Dr. Cottam and how his beginnings led to the eventual forming of Red Butte Gardner, located in Research Park at the University of Utah.

The visitors center was opened in the 1990s and while it’s more than 35 years old, it’s still young in the terms of arboretums around the country and world.

Red Butte Garden consists of 21 acres of highly maintained gardens, with another 78 acres of natural area and 5miles of hiking trails.

It is a unique arboretum. Most arboretums around the world are in cities. But Red Butte Gardens is located in the foothills of Salt Lake City. The end result is there is a lot of wildlife that also enjoys roaming around the garden. Moose, deer, bobcats, and turkeys are regular visitors. Eddy says they also saw some cougar tracks this past winter, but never did spot the wily cat.

Like most of us during the COVID-19, Red Butte Garden had to alter how they did things. They instituted virtual classes and zoom lessons featuring videography, held with teachers and their classes. And like the rest of us, they are anxious to get back to normal, in particular, the very popular and oft-asked about Red Butte Concert series.

Red Butte Garden Outdoor Concert Series 2021

Eddy says the series is “brewing” this year, but he doesn’t have any information because he’s the “plant” guy. Even so, he’s excited for some of the amazing talent that is in the lineup of performers at the Garden. The beautiful venue, in the amphitheater, is a one-of-a-kind experience. Everyone should get a chance to enjoy it. That said, the concerts usually sell out during the “presale” which is exclusive to members of Red Butte Garden. This is just one of the perks of membership at Red Butte Garden. 

And if you’re wondering how you’re going to keep your little humans entertained this summer, check events and ideas they have listed on their awesome website. The “boredom busters” offer great ways to keep your kids learning and entertained at the same time. 

Buy A Membership

A good way to stay up to date on what’s happening at Red Butte is to support them by purchasing a membership. (Hint: as we mentioned above, membership means you get to take part in the presale for the Red Butte Garden Outdoor Concert Series, which often sells completely out during the presale.)

You can also volunteer and of course they happily accept donations. Choose your favorite program or initiative, or simply give to the greatest needs of the Garden.

The Garden is also a great setting for a wedding or other private event.

Harmons is a proud partner with Red Butte Garden and we sponsor the concert series, which is one of the biggest forms of income they receive to keep the garden running. along with Bootanical.

Bootanical at Red Butte Garden, sponsored by Harmons

If you enjoyed this podcast, you’ll want to listen to our other episodes. You can find them here. Recent episodes include Understanding CBD and The Salt of the Earth with Darryl Bosshardt, of Redmond Real Salt.

Eddy Dawson

Eddy Dawson has a passion for connecting people with the importance of plants in all aspects of life.  His life’s mantra is “everyone loves plants, not everyone knows it.” He has spent 20 years working at Red Butte Garden in a variety of roles, including curator of plant records, director of information technology, and currently serves as the director of programs.  In addition to his Red Butte Garden experience, he has 30 years combined experience in the plant science and horticulture industries and is a 

volunteer leader engaged in the national American Public Garden Association. As part of the mission at Red Butte Garden, Eddy strives to continue learning and making new connections with plants and people  He has degrees in horticulture and botanical informatics from Texas A&M University. 

At Harmons, we’re lucky to have incredibly talented artists at each store, and we’re sure you’ve seen their amazing chalk art as you wander throughout every location. We’re excited to be able to feature some of their work as the featured art on our podcast blog. This art is the work of Ryann Meyers, the artist at our Mountain View location. 

Spring Planting Q&A with Red Butte Garden

Are you ready to get your hands in the earth and do some planting? We know we are. Today, Jason Baker, who is a curator for Red Butte Garden and Arboretum, has kindly joined us to answer questions about gardening in the state of Utah. 

Q. What is your favorite thing to plant in your personal garden and why?

I’m a big fan of desert plants. Things that love hot and dry conditions as well as things that are pokey, stabby, and sharp. In my yard I have a combination of cacti and succulents, along with native and waterwise shrubs, perennials, and annuals.

Q. What do you recommend people do right now to help prepare them to plan their gardens? With unstable weather, is there anything you can plant in April?

Right now is a great time to start warm-season vegetables indoors; plants such as eggplant, cucumber, squash, and melons. Outdoors you can sow cool-season vegetables like peas, radishes, lettuce, and spinach. It is also a great time to cut back last year’s grasses and perennials, as well as prune out winter-damaged branches and twigs from ornamental shrubs and trees. If you have early spring-blooming bulbs, you can deadhead spent flowers. Just be sure not to cut back the leaves until they start to yellow. Right now is also a perfect time to plant hardened off (plants that are adjusted to being outdoors, not brought directly from a greenhouse) perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines.

Q. What plants do you recommend for Utah gardening? How do you care for those plants?

Since we live in a desert, I highly recommend planting anything that is adapted to our climate. I really like native plants, so I always advocate planting those first, but there are countless varieties of non-native waterwise plants available at nurseries that are both beautiful and adapted to grow here. In terms of care, many plants require certain amounts of water and light, so it’s really important to be aware of those before purchasing so you can group plants with similar requirements together.

Q. Too much water, or too little, seems to be a big problem for amateur gardeners. Do you have any tips that will make knowing how much moisture is needed easier?

Most plants depend on even moisture in the soil, but depending on the type of plant, the required amount of moisture will vary, so it is important to learn about your specific plant’s requirements. When you’re considering a plant to purchase, it’s a good idea to check the plant tag for the moisture requirements and to also hang on to the tag after planting so you can look up more specific information online.

Once a plant is established, letting the soil to dry out in between watering promotes deeper root growth, allowing the plant to access moisture deeper in the soil. Alternately, daily waterings promote shallow root growth, causing plants to be more susceptible to our hot, dry, summer conditions. 

Don’t water during the heat of the day. Instead it is best to water first thing in the morning or after it’s cooled in the evening so less water evaporates into the air, which is called evapotranspiratio

Q. What would you recommend people plant in a beginner’s garden?

I love to hear about people ripping out their water-wasting lawn and replacing it with low-water options like buffalo grass or creeping thyme, or better yet, a landscape of waterwise plants that benefit backyard wildlife like birds and pollinators.

Q. What tools and equipment are needed by a beginning gardener?

Although there are a lot of tools to choose from, you can get a lot done with a handful of essentials:

  • Every gardener should have a soil knife, also known as a hori-hori. They can be used for everything from digging out weeds and cutting through stubborn roots to planting your flowering perennials or vegetables.
  • Sometimes it’s nice to get our hands dirty, but it is still a good idea to use a pair of gloves when using hand tools to avoid unwanted blisters and cuts.
  • A good pair of bypass pruning shears are also essential. You’ll need them to prune your shrubs into shape, thinning out dead or dying branches, and cutting back your perennials and ornamental grasses in the spring to allow for new growth.
  • Leaf rakes are an important tool to help keep your garden tidy and are mostly used to clean up fallen leaves and garden trimmings.
  • A rigid garden rake is also invaluable, both its flat side and rigid teeth are great for breaking up soil and spreading out mulch, topsoil, and gravel.
  • Round point shovels are great for planting larger plants, such as trees and shrubs.
  • A pruning saw, for pruning branches and limbs, is also great cutting back grasses in the spring. Interestingly a soil knife works for cutting back grasses as well.
  • A watering can.
  • A hand-tool caddy or a five-gallon bucket to help keep track of your tools is essential.

Q. We hear a lot about how we live in a desert, and xeriscaping is ideal. What is the best way to make this work?

I recommend starting small by selecting a portion of your yard to convert from traditional high water-use gardening to a waterwise and xeriscape landscape. By starting small you can get a better feel for the types of plants that you like and work well for you. Then, as you slowly expand the area you’re working with, you can incorporate other waterwise plants that you have learned about in your trips to the garden center or botanical garden. If the thought of this intimidates you, Red Butte offers a variety of classes throughout the year to assist you in making good choices for your home landscape.

There is a lot of misinformation on what xeriscape means. The term was developed by the Denver Water Board in the 1980s and does not mean rocks and cacti, or that the entire landscape is xeric. See this link for information on the seven principals of xeriscape and more.

Q. What plants take the least amount of water but still make your garden look amazing?

Personally, I enjoy desert succulents like cacti and yucca, but I understand that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. There are plenty of native and waterwise plant options out there, so it shouldn’t be difficult finding planting options for everyone.

  • Quite a few ornamental sages (salvia) are very waterwise and produce flowers in varying shades of purple, pink, and blue.
  • Utah is home to a unique desert shrub known as Apache plume (fallugia paradoxa) that produces quarter-sized white flowers, and fuzzy pink fruits. It remains showy for most of the growing season.
  • Buckwheats (eriogonum) are another really good option for a waterwise garden. They often produce slightly fuzzy green or gray leaves with flowers ranging in color from white or pink, to yellow, with fall foliage in varying shades of red and purple. And they are an important pollinator plant for native bees.
  • Stonecrops (sedum) are a good, easy-to-grow option. They come in different shapes and sizes from low-growing groundcovers, to mounding varieties, to tall clumping forms.
  • Lavender (lavandula angustifolia) is quite waterwise once established and produces flowers ranging in color from white, to pink, to varying shades of purple.

Q. As far as ground cover, what do you recommend?

Groundcovers come in all shapes and sizes and, as long as it spreads, can include plants as tall as two feet. Before picking your plants, first determine what you are looking for in a groundcover. Are you looking for something that can be walked on, or are you wanting to fill an area with colorful waterwise plants?  If the first, a waterwise grass such as our native buffalo grass (bouteloua dactyloides) is a good option—it can be interplanted with spring flowering bulbs for early spring color. For the latter, creeping thyme (thymus) and ice plants (delosperma) are my favorites but there are so many other great groundcovers to choose from like creeping phlox (phlox), pussy-toes (antennaria), Speedwell (Veronica), leadwort (ceratostigma plumbaginoides), creeping gold buttons (cotula Tiffindell gold), and stonecrops (sedum).

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about planting a garden?

Plant whatever brings you joy, and it never hurts to experiment and try new things.

Jason Baker is the curator for Red Butte Gardens and Aboretum since the fall of 2006. He majored in botany with an emphasis in plant identification. Shortly after graduation he was told about the open curator position, and began what he considers a great and very fulfilling career. Jason loves plants and photography, both of which fit very well in his job.