English Cottage Gardens, Rooftop Gardens, Colorful “Tossed” Beds and Value-Based Planters Make Temple Square a Beautiful Place

Beehives and dinner rolls may have brought me to Brigham Young’s homes, but the beautiful gardens that surround them kept luring me back to enjoy the peaceful setting that Temple Square in Salt Lake City offers.

English cottage gardens surround the Lion House and the Beehive House.  Hollyhocks, dahlias, sage, lavender, morning glory, verbena, anemone and windflowers are part of this collection of 19th-century herbs, flowers and native plants.  The gardens are reminiscent of how important the seeds that the Mormon pioneers brought with them were to their new life in the West.

Planters outside the Lion House contain color-themed plantings to represent the values to which young women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints subscribe. Colors help them remember these values, which are individual worth (red), knowledge (green), integrity (purple), choice and accountability (orange), good works (yellow), faith (white), Divine nature (blue), and virtue (gold).

Temple Square’s gardens were so beautiful that we took two free, one-hour garden tours that the LDS Church offers from April through September.

After watching the Music and the Spoken Word broadcast in the Tabernacle, we walked over to the east gate of Temple Square and met Andrea Augenstein for a guided walk through the gardens that surround the 35-acre headquarters of the LDS Church. The gardens include 250 flower beds, more than 165,000 bedding plants, and over 700 varieties of plants from around the world. Plants are grown in LDS Church greenhouses.

Five garden stewards are responsible for the gardens. Each steward supervises five or six paid staff and 40 volunteer gardeners. The gardens are redesigned every six months and are slightly different each year. During three weekends in May and October, 5,000 to 8,000 volunteers convene in Temple Square to replant the beds. Next month, the beds will be replanted with tulip bulbs (including 25 new hybrids for next spring), hardy winter annuals and pansies.

Since parking garages are under Temple Square, the garden is a shallow rooftop garden of sorts. Many beds are just four inches deep, so flowers are planted in a combination of peat moss, compost and utelite, which is composed of ground shale that has been heated to become porous for holding moisture.

Gardeners use a technique called “tossing” to plant the beds. Instead of being planted in rows containing the same type of flowers, the Temple Square beds are organized in a way that prevents attention being drawn to flowers that have reached their peak. As one flower fades, another one in the same area is blooming, so there’s always something interesting to admire in each bed.

One bed contained pineapple sage, oakleaf hydrangea, Annabelle hydrangea, a lacebark elm, a sweetgum tree, sweet potato vine, and a daphne shrub.

A shady bed outside the Church Office Building was planted with coleus, heuchera, brunnera (also known as the false forget-me-not), Lenten rose and begonia.

Black pearl pepper plants, lisianthus, honey locust trees, seven-son flowering shrubs, Sargent crabapples, Profusion zinnias, amaranthus, Joseph’s coat, columnar oak trees, black elderberry, and little leaf linden trees can also be found in the Temple Square gardens.

A Cedar of Lebanon is located near the East Gate of Temple Square. A woman brought home a seedling from her visit to the Holy Land in 1948 and offered it to the Church to plant it at Temple Square. To make it feel more at home, it is planted in sand. Every other Christmas, it is decorated with red lights.

Our guide pointed out a box on the upper part of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, formerly known as the Hotel Utah, a lavish building built in 1911 that also has a huge beehive cupola. The box is home to peregrine falcons that have been nesting there for over 30 years.

Mrs. Augenstein also shared that the fountain outside the Church Office Building was donated by O.C. Tanner, founder of the jewelry business that began by selling class rings and now specializes in employee recognition items. In 2009, O.C. Tanner Co. turned the 1905 building that was the former home of the Salt Lake City Library and later became a planetarium into its flagship store on South State Street in downtown Salt Lake City.

The LDS Church maintains another garden on the rooftop of the Conference Center. Built in 2000, the building is constructed of granite that originated in a nearby canyon. Its auditorium seats 20,000 people and is where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcasts Music and the Spoken Word during the summer.

Glenn Oscarson guided us through these four acres of gardens, which some say is reminiscent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

One part of the rooftop garden replicates the Utah mountains, with plantings of pine trees, spruce trees, quaking aspen trees, big tooth maple trees, snow bushes, cliff-roses, and other plants native to the state.

The other part is home to a prairie garden. Among the 165,000 plants and 160 different varieties in this garden are columbine, spring wildflowers, goldenrod, bush peas, and bristlecone pines, a type of tree that can live for over 3,000 years. Juniper and other plants grow in eyebrow planters surrounding the edges of the rooftop garden. Since the soil for the garden is only four inches deep, it is made of peat moss and an expanded rock product.

Water is also a significant design element in the rooftop garden. A fountain represents the Gospel springing forth and going to the four corners of the earth. A waterfall begins in a calm reflecting pool on the roof and cascades down the south façade of the building.

To read more, see The Gardens at Temple Square, by Lynn McGhie, and Temple Square Gardening, by Christena Gates. For a super view of the rooftop garden, visit the 26th floor observation deck of the Church Office Building on Temple Square, which serves as LDS Church headquarters.

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