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Forget ‘cactus and gravel,’ Red Butte’s new Water Conservation Garden showcases beauty in the desert

More than 29,000 native, drought-tolerant and water-wise plants — some 350 species — are arranged in 10 themed areas or “rooms” that collectively convey one simple message: Skimping on water does not mean skimping on beauty.

“We don’t want to guilt people into using these plants,” Lee said. “We want to seduce them into having an absolutely stunning landscape using water-wise plants.”

Lectures, courses and garden tours are in the works so people can learn how to create water-wise landscapes at home.

Lee said the garden has been part of Red Butte’s master plan for nearly a decade and cost about $6 million, paid for through private donations and grants.

While the garden sits on a steep slope, the pathways were built with a gentle 5 percent grade, making it ADA accessible and a great place for young and old to enjoy the outdoors just a few minutes from downtown. The garden also provides access to hiking trails for those who want something more strenuous. (The new garden is included in Red Butte admission; see for details.)

Kirtly Jones and Donna Mirabelli were among the first to visit the new garden last week. They were impressed by the design, with its red-stone walls and staircases, as well as the plants.

“It honors Utah’s landscapes in a really beautiful way,” said Jones. “And it will have fantastic views at sunset.”

Utah already has four similar conservation gardens in West Jordan, Kaysville, Ogden and St. George. But Red Butte Garden is the most visually stunning, especially when the many young seedlings reach maturity in three to five years, Lee said, adding that Utah’s conservation gardens complement each other. And in the second-driest state in the nation — behind Nevada — there’s room for many more.

“We really need examples of wise gardening in every corner of the valley,” he said. “We need a communitywide effort to change the culture of landscaping.”

Utah averages only 13 inches of precipitation per year, but residents consume more water per capita because they enjoy having lush green lawns that require regular watering.

As Utah’s population continues to grow, water resources will become scarce and homeowners will need to find landscape alternatives. Many people assume that means they will have to give up beauty for “cactus and gravel,” said Marita Tewes Tyrolt, Red Butte’s director of horticulture. It’s really about “incorporating water-wise plants and proper irrigation.”

The Water Conservation Garden’s 10 themed areas demonstrate that “one size does not fit all,” she said. And depending on the landscape, “there are so many options and people can be creative.”

At the entrance of the Water Conservation Garden — adjacent to the Children’s Garden and east of the Fragrance Garden — guests are greeted by the Water-Wise Border, a classic English border using water-wise plants.

As guests move up the hill, they will find nine more unique growing zones:

Adaptive beauty • Hardy plants from around the world.

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