One of the jewels of the Gardens at Thanksgiving Point is the Secret Garden, patterned after the secluded area in the classic children’s book. To find the Secret Garden at Karen Ashton’s Gardens requires getting off the pavement and walking along dirt and gravel.
“You have to get off the traditional path sometimes to find life’s surprises,” Karen says. “I believe we should take opportunities to seek out adventures and treasures.”
Karen has lived this lesson in her own life by not taking what some perceive as the “traditional” path of wealth. Rather than simply concentrating on building her wardrobe and bank account after becoming millionaires through founding WordPerfect, she and her husband, Alan, have given millions of dollars to beautifying an old dairy farm near the Point of the Mountain. And she hopes the world will come, take a big breath and “fill their spirits” by observing and listening to the gardens.
Yes, she has taken the path less traveled by.
Karen’s “path” brought her back from the Swiss Alps just days before the public opening of the Gardens. She wanted to check on the progress — “the gardens change daily,” she says.
She quickly stepped off the path and started hiking across the grass and up the hill to where the public enters the gardens. Although slightly out of breath on the steep climb up the well-manicured hill, she made it with enough ease to know she had done it before.
When she reached the top, she turned around, took a big breath, and began to tell the story of her vision for the gardens.
“I never thought I’d have this opportunity,” she says, “but it would have always been my choice.”
Wearing a straw hat, red shoes and light-blue dress with Americana buttons, her eyes lit up when she described her “blossom in the desert.”
“I am not a well person if I stay inside all day,” Karen says. “Being outside makes us whole, and I want the community and the world to come here and experience that.”
When the Ashtons began planning Thanksgiving Point, which is an expression of their gratitude for the abundance they found as WordPerfect founders, Karen started talking about a garden.
And she’s been talking about it ever since.
“I keep thinking of things to change about it,” she says. “But we knew we’d have done our job if the birds came back — and they have.”
Her excitement shows in the quick pace she takes around the gardens. “I always loved being outside,”
she said. “But I had 11 children in 16 years, so the last thing I could do was yardwork.”
Still, she feels at home doing garden tasks, including pulling a tall weed from a flower bed on Shepherd’s Hill without breaking her train of thought.
For a young garden, the trees are surprisingly tall, and the flower areas are full and lush.
“I’m already 52,” Karen says. “I want to enjoy these Gardens while I’m still here. A gardener never sees her gardens at their best, but I want to see them as big and full as I can.”
Fast planting is old hat to Karen.
“I knew landscaping could be done quickly because I moved into a new house and one week later had a wedding reception there for my daughter,” Karen smiles.
Although the formation of the gardens came together relatively quickly, she hopes visitors won’t be in a rush when they visit the Gardens.
“We live in a cement and asphalt world, and the gardens will help you recenter your thoughts,” Karen says. “If you’ve had a bad day with your mother-in-law, for example, you can come here; and just the act of observing will help you see and feel things clearly.”
Karen is in awe of each garden as she gives the tour.
“I’d love to take each person through personally,” Karen says.
Karen has taken herself through gardens around the world, and Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, is her favorite.
“We differ from them because of our soil,” Karen says as she dragged her red shoes through the dry dirt. “This has been a real wake-up call to what kind of climate and soil we have here.”
But the soil has been enriched, beautified and worked until it is home to 15,000 shrubs, 4,000 flats of ground cover and 4,000 flats of annuals.
Karen picked a blossom from a plant near the Italian waterfall and crushed it in her hands. She took a big breath and inhaled the fragrance. “Smell this,” she says. “It is so strong and lush.”
As she briskly walks the paths, her hands almost pat the flowers as if to say, “We’ll take care of you.”
With every voice inflection, word choice and gesture, Karen shows her love for the Gardens.
“Maybe I should just have a sleepover here,” she says.
And you get the idea that maybe she’s not kidding.
Karen’s Gardens have brought flower blossoms and budding economic growth to Utah County.
No, her gardens won’t be secret for much longer.