By Mark Nolte
Associating well-groomed gardens with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has become as common as associating well-groomed men and woman with LDS Church meetings.
That is why visitors to the gardens atop the LDS Conference Center”s roof may be surprised to see nearly 2-acres of landscaping that looks, well, natural.
While most gardens on Temple Square are ordered, English-style gardens, the northwest corner of the center”s roof is adorned with a “high mountain meadow,” according to information prepared by Conference Center gardener Janice Wilde.
The meadow owes its somewhat unkempt appearance to at least 27 grass varieties that blow with the changing wind and 86 varieties of wildflower that sporadically bloom when their biological clocks tell them to do so – which happens to be right now during the warm summer months.
“I was mentioning to a family from Holland how fun it is to return each week and see new things [flowers] coming forth,” said Marilyn Harmer, who has been an LDS service missionary for a year and a half.
Though the Conference Center meadow is not styled like other Temple Square gardens, church employees and missionaries say its untamed growth give it a beauty all its own.
Conference Center gardeners use advanced gardening techniques to keep the meadow looking natural and to ensure that the garden”s weight does not cause structural damage to the building.
No soil is used in the center”s gardens. Instead, gardeners use Utelite, or shale that has been heated to 1,800 F so that it expands. According to the Conference Center information sheet, Utelite is roughly half the weight of soil because of its expanded size and contains no foreign seeds when first placed into a planter.
To keep the meadow looking robust and wild, pop-up and rotary sprinklers provide man-made rain as often as the plants need it.
According to Wilde”s information sheet, native and introduced plants that tolerate Utah”s dry climate are used to conserve water.
Don Neilson, supervisor of hosting for the Conference Center, said the meadow and accompanying gardens provide LDS missionaries with visual aids to help visitors appreciate the goals of the LDS Church.
“Using the roof and the view of the temple and the view of the gardens we try to teach the gospel a little bit,” Neilson said.
Though the Conference Center has no official symbolism, Neilson said the roof gardens and fountains often “remind” missionaries of certain gospel principles and events which they can share with visitors.
Visitors, like the LDS Church employees and missionaries, are invited to look for ways in which the Conference Center”s design and gardens remind them of the gospel, Neilson said.
For example, Harmer, who gives tours of the center”s roof every Wednesday, said the 2-acre meadow reminds her of the valley the Saints entered at the end of their pioneer trek.
“That is what they would have encountered when they came [the roof meadow]; they were overwhelmed when they looked across those vast grasslands,” Harmer explained.
Harmer also said she enjoys a fountain that sits directly above the pulpit. The fountain”s design ensures that cascading water rolls out across four slabs of smooth rock.
“Words spoken from the pulpit are the same; they go out into the world,” Harmer said.
The Conference Center is open for tours daily, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The last tour begins at 8 p.m. Gardeners also offer special garden tours. For information call 1-801-240-0075.
“We have two roles,” Neilson said. “The gardening department does in-depth garden tours two times a day . . . Our tours are spiritual. We try to plant seeds of the gospel rather than flower seeds.”