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Sugar House Journal

Follow the yellow brick road to Red Butte’s Garden After Dark event

Oct 07, 2019 11h48 ● By Jenniffer Wardell

Families often come dressed in costume to play games and enjoy the other activities provided by Red Butte Gardens. (Photo courtesy of Red Butte Gardens)

By Jenniffer Wardell | [email protected]

Red Butte Gardens is inviting you to Oz this Halloween. 

The chance to journey along the yellow brick road comes at this year’s Garden After Dark event, set for Oct. 17-19 and 24-26 from 6-9 p.m. each night. The popular family event, which has been hosted by the garden for more than 20 years, includes games, performers, food, and vendor booths in addition to the gardens themselves. The theme for this year’s event is “The Wizard of Oz,” which is a lot more garden-friendly than some people may realize. 

“We look for stories that tie into a natural theme, and it turns out there’s a lot of plants and plant elements in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” said Jason Alba, Youth & Family Programs manager for Red Butte Gardens.

For this year’s event, guests will help the residents of Oz retrieve a magic flower than has been stolen by the Wicked Witch of the West. During the experience, they’ll go through the garden on various outdoor-based adventures including a corn maze with Scarecrow. 

“They’ll also go to the Lion’s Meadow, and learn about the giant insects that have taken it over,” Alba said. “At the end, they’ll go to the Witch’s castle and play a few games to help stop the Witch.” 

Each area will combine kid-friendly activities with facts about different aspects of the garden, from fall-friendly plants to how beneficial insects can be to plant growth. The combination is part of what makes the event such a key part of the garden’s educational program.

For their Garden After Dark event, Red Butte Gardens decorates their plants with spooky lights and other themed decorations. (Photo courtesy of Red Butte Gardens)

“We like to encourage people to have all different types of experiences with the Gardens,” he said. “[Garden After Dark] is more than just walking through the beautiful gardens. They get to interact with some plants and learn a few new things along the way.” 

Though it started as a spring event, Garden After Dark has been Red Butte’s way of celebrating Halloween since the early 2000s. The first themed Garden After Dark event happened in 2004, celebrating an old-fashioned Halloween and has been going strong ever since. 

“I think the big appeal is that it’s family friendly and good for kids of all ages,” Alba said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of that, especially at Halloween when the focus is on being spooky and scary.” 

Garden employees spend more than a year preparing for the event, often starting the previous summer. Part of the process involves decorating for the event, which often includes natural elements such as twigs and grasses pulled directly from the gardens.

“There are a lot of different elements we have to contend with, including the weather,” he said. “Decorations have to be pretty weatherproof.” 

As for the visitors, Alba said that many have turned it into a holiday tradition for their families. They’ll come dressed up in costume, sometimes connected to the theme for the year. 

“My favorite part is how into it people get, both in the Gardens and in the community,” he said. “It really pulls people together.” 

There will also be light displays arranged throughout the garden. A complete list of activity stations, performers, vendors and food trucks will be posted online at and will be added to as the event gets closer. 

Tickets are $14 per person for the general public and go on sale Oct. 1. They can be purchased online at the Garden After Dark website, and are separate from the general tickets into the garden. Garden members can receive a discount on tickets. Any available tickets will be available for purchase at the door after 3 p.m. that night, but organizers prefer that people buy tickets early.  

“We do like people to buy the tickets in advance,” Alba said. “That way, they can get themselves squared away and ready for the event.”