By Amber Coe
How powerful is your imagination?
When the Thanksgiving Point founders, Allen and Karen Ashton, bought the property on which the institute rests, only three trees grew in the area now comprising a stunning 55-acre park.
Five years later, the institute and the Ashtons are introducing a garden that now boasts 12 theme gardens and more than 10,000 trees.
Clive Winn, president of Thanksgiving Point, said he acknowledges that most gardens attract attention after they mature and grow.
“We’ll have some things unfinished, but it’s a sneak preview,” he said.
With almost four miles of paved walkway, a rose garden, Monet bridge and an amphitheater showcasing an 85-foot waterfall, any extra tweaking will easily be overlooked by visitors.
“It’s a smashing preview,” Karen Ashton said.
Entering the gate, visitors wander down a path on Shepherd’s Hill before entering the main body of the gardens. Karen Ashton said this path gives the visitors an opportunity to set aside their worries so the enjoyment of the gardens can be complete.
“It gives you time get rid of whatever is bothering you. We live in a cement and asphalt world,” she said.
Trees separate the garden’s rooms, which keep each new area a surprise, rather than being overwhelmed at once. Gravel paths encourage discovering the garden’s hidden treasures, like the secret garden.
Karen Ashton said she hopes that visitors will become lost in a different place.
“Part of the experience is leaving the world behind,” she said.
The greenery and gardening is not the only expense that comprised an approximate total cost of $27 million. Building roads, parking lots and arranging plumbing was also a cost.
Winn said he estimates the annual expenditure of upkeep will be $1 to $2 million, which includes gardening staff, greenery replacements and irrigation. Winn said creating the garden held challenges for workers setting up the Monet Lake and maintaining the gardens.
“This has been a reminder that we live in a desert,” he said.
The main garden and the Children’s Discovery Garden are separated to encourage the different atmospheres present in each. While the overtones of peace and relaxation pervade the theme gardens, a different reaction is anticipated for the children’s garden.
“We want this to be a place of excitement,” Karen Ashton said.
Visitors entering the Discovery Garden are greeted by Noah, his wife and an ark full of animals. Flanked by growing mazes, paths stamped with animal prints lead children to explore a bear cave, mineral mound and ecological pond with underwater viewing windows. Thanksgiving Point also plans to install an active weather station to show the effects of weather patterns.
“This is not an amusement park, but a place for fun and learning,” Winn said.
Another attraction is the garden railway, built to the scale of 1:32, which was designed and built by Dr. Tom Catherall, the associate dean of Health and Human Performance at BYU and approximately 50 students. Catherall began work on the railway in June 1998 after he was given a grant from Thanksgiving Point Institute.
All the model houses and track have been built by Catherall, other faculty and students at BYU. Catherall said he has found train sets to be useful in fostering family communication.
“Trains are very compelling,” he said.
Catherall said trains encourage whole-family recreation because each family member can find something interesting. Those who take little interest in the trains themselves can build model houses and scenes, for example.
For Karen Ashton, the gardens are the realization of a dream.
“We wanted to express thanks to Heavenly Father in a way that will last,” she said.
Karen Ashton said she sees the garden as the beginning of a legacy, as many years will pass before the garden reaches it’s full potential. She said she hopes many people will visit to renew peace and grow close to nature.
“The person who plants the garden never gets to see the garden at its best,” she said.
The grand opening of the garden is scheduled for spring 2001, but it opens to the public on Friday. Admission for adults is $6, children over three are $3.