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Sugar House Journal

Red Butte Garden offers local residents Halloween magic with Bootanical festival

Oct 28, 2020 16h47 ● By Jenniffer Wardell

There are 3,000 pumpkins in the Pumpkin Queen’s kingdom, one of the sections at Red Butte Garden’s Bootanical festival. (Photo courtesy of Red Butte Garden)

By Jenniffer Wardell | [email protected]

Halloween events aren’t dead in Salt Lake City. 

Red Butte Garden is making sure local families get some spooky fun with their Bootanical festival, running now through Oct. 31 from 5 to 9 p.m. (last entry at 7:30 p.m.). The event, which will include displays, activities, performers, and more, was designed to give locals the chance to celebrate in a year that hasn’t given them much opportunity to do that.

“We really wanted to remind everyone out there, especially the little ones, that there’s still fun out there even when times are tough,” said Jason Alba, Youth and Family Programs manager for Red Butte Gardens. 

The event is happening thanks to a grant from Create in Utah, which happened thanks to CARES Act money given to the Utah Department of Arts and Museums. The grants are designed to get people back into local museums and arts organizations, all of whom have seen admissions drop dramatically during the pandemic.  

“Everyone has a different level of safety returning due to the pandemic,” he said. 

As part of the grant, Red Butte is now currently offering free admission on Mondays from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. and free admission Tuesdays-Sundays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission from 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays is $5. 

“It gives people the chance to get out in nature and kind of forget the craziness,” Alba said. “It gives them a chance to re-energize, re-connect, and try to regain their balance.” 

For their main event, however, they realized they had to do something different. Red Butte Garden’s usual October event, Garden After Dark, was structured in such a way that adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines and recommendations would be too challenging.  

“With everything that’s been going on, we realized we couldn’t do the same type of event in a socially responsible way,” he said. 

Because of that, the garden has set up the Bootanical so that people sign up for a certain entry time online. The garden only lets in about 30 people every half hour, and have structured the displays with a recommended route that allows people to see everything without crossing each other’s paths. In addition, there are hand sanitizing stations set up everywhere. 

There’s more here, though, than just safety. The garden has been divided into seven different kingdoms for the event, each of them ruled over by a specific monster that will have a task or challenge for guests to complete.  

“All the Halloween monsters we’ve chosen to highlight have some connection to plants and the natural world,” Alba said. 

Some of those connections will be familiar to people, but others might be a surprise even to Halloween fans. 

“Vampires obviously have the garlic connection, but roses are another thing they don’t like,” he said. “They kind of keep vampires away.” 

There’s also a lot of visual design that goes into each section. In the Pumpkin Queen’s domain, 3,000 pumpkins help create an entirely new world for guests. 

“They’re not just your traditional orange pumpkins,” he said. “There are some knobbly gourds, some squash, and some others people might not think to include in their Halloween decorations.” 

There will also be a variety of performers throughout the Bootanical, including musicians, dancers, storytellers and artists. Their inclusion was partially inspired by the grant money Red Butte received.

“We wanted to reach out to artists who haven’t been able to work due to the pandemic and provide a little bit of relief as well,” Alba said. 

All this arranging, though, has come with some challenges. Garden employees put the event together in about a month, which is far less time than they usually get to plan a big event. This process was made even harder by the fact that the pandemic affected everything from shipping times to the supplies at local businesses. 

“We tried to avoid big boxes and source as many materials as we could locally, because local businesses have been affected by the pandemic as well,” he said. “It’s been really great working with them, because they really helped us troubleshoot those little problems.” 

Some of the local groups who helped with the Bootanical are Pioneer Theatre Company and the Utah Shakespeare Festival, who allowed the garden to rent props for the event and offered their expertise on pulling everything together. 

“We’ve really been able to use their experience and design,” Alba said. 

He added that all the work was worth it if it gives residents a little bit of an escape from everything else that’s going on. 

“We wanted to thank the community for sticking with us through the pandemic,” he said. “We really wanted to use this as a way to welcome them back to the garden and give them a touch of normalcy in a year that’s been anything but normal.”

To register for an admission time, purchase tickets or for more information, visit