Conservation garden featuring desert landscapes in St. George aims to educate visitors

Posted at 7:33 PM, May 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-20 21:33:08-04

ST. GEORGE, Utah – Folks in southern Utah are getting a lesson in desert landscapes, as the Washington County Water Conservancy District opened up the Red Hills Desert Conservation Garden Wednesday.

Water district managers say between the landscape, the fish in the river, and even some dinosaur tracks--the primary purpose of this garden is education. More than 3,000 individual plants dot the 5 acres of land. The displays are meant to show homeowners what works well in the desert and dispel myths that xeriscaping means zero plant life.

“A traditional desert landscape uses about a fourth or less of the water that a traditional landscape will use,” said Washington County Water Conservancy District general manager Ron Thompson. “So, there are tremendous opportunities for water conservation with this kind of landscape.”

The $3 million garden, located next to Pioneer Park, is meant to be an extension of the of that area. St. George City owns the land, and the conservancy district paid for the development.

“They're really going to learn about the benefits of drought tolerant,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said. “As well as these native fish, tortoise, and the dinosaur tracks that were found not too far from here as well.”

One of the central features of the garden is a winding, 1,150 foot stream--meant to mimic the Virgin River, complete with a population of endangered species: the woundfin minnow and the Virgin River Chub. The two species of fish are in the park both as a rehabilitation tool, and an educational one.

“People will have a better chance of connecting with the fish,” said Steve Meismer, a local Virgin River Program coordinator. “From an educational aspect, that’s better.”

Several people wandered the garden Wednesday. Among them was Joyce Hammond. She said she’s watched the garden take shape over the past year, and the result exceeded her expectation.

“It looks so natural, everything,” Hammond said. “Even though it’s all man-made, it looks like it’s been here forever.”

While the garden is officially open, there are some features still to be added. Interpretive panels will be placed to give more information on the plant life and to help people understand how to integrate them into their own yards.

The water conservancy district is also planning a formal dedication this fall. The garden is located at 375 North Red Hills Parkway in St. George and is open every day during daylight hours.