Red Butte Garden: A case study of sustainable landscape management


Green infrastructure is becoming a more viable and popular strategy for managing urban waters because it can accomplish multiple objectives. To date, there are limited studies on the environmental benefits and impacts of botanical gardens and their potential application to green infrastructure. This research, carried out at the University of Utah, investigated some environmental benefits and impacts of Red Butte Garden on the urban stream Red Butte Creek in Salt Lake City, Utah, in order to explore its applicability to green infrastructure.

Public botanical gardens provide numerous social, economic, and environmental benefits. Some of these benefits include biodiversity and endangered species conservation, green space often surrounded by urbanization, educational opportunities, and improved human health and well-being (Ballantyne, Packer, & Hughes, 2008; Bennett & Swasey, 1996; Connell & Meyer, 2004; Groenewegen, Van den Berg, De Vries, & Verheij, 2006; Shimozono & Iwatsuki, 1986; Ward, Parker, & Shackleton, 2010). Conversely, botanical gardens may negatively impact surrounding ecosystems by introducing invasive species (Reichard & White, 2001), altering natural biogeochemical cycles, and increasing nutrient loading to aquatic systems through excess fertilization.

The benefits of green infrastructure are well established and include urban surface water improvements, mitigation of urban heat-island effect, improved neighborhood aesthetics, and sequestering carbon dioxide (Bass, Krayenhoff, Martilli, & Stull, 2002; Li, Guo, & Feng, 2004; Nowak & Crane, 2002; Onishi, Cao, Ito, Shi, & Imura, 2010; Walsh, Fletcher, & Ladson, 2005). Green belts, residential gardens, public parks, and green spaces are all being considered as potential sites for green infrastructure (Amati & Taylor, 2010; Cameron et al., 2012; Newell et al., 2013; Segaran, Lewis, & Ostendorf, 2014).

However, the literature on botanical gardens is limited and their application to green infrastructure undervalued. Botanical gardens are traditionally viewed as vibrant plant habitats for the purpose of human enjoyment but they should also be viewed as opportunities for green infrastructure implementation. We hypothesized that botanical gardens can be designed and managed to provide the traditional amenities (e.g., biodiversity, education) along with improving the urban environment (e.g., runoff filtration, heat island reduction).

Red Butte Garden, Red Butte Creek, and the surrounding riparian ecosystem were analyzed between August and December 2013. Stream water and leaf samples were collected (Figure 1) upstream, downstream and within Red Butte Garden. Figure 2 shows a map of sampling locations.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Leaf sampling along Red Butte Creek (August 2013)

Figure 2

Figure 2. Study site vicinity and sampling locations

Foliage in and downstream of the Garden had higher nitrogen content compared to an upstream control. Leaf data also indicated varying sources of plant N across the three sampling locations, suggesting influence from human activity, including fertilization and urban runoff. Downstream stream water characteristics were consistent with upstream natural conditions indicating no negative impacts from Garden management. There were slightly higher nutrient concentrations and lower dissolved oxygen in the Garden’s ponds; however, this did not impact downstream stream water suggesting rapid nutrient uptake within the Garden and highlighting the potential to use these processes to treat urban stormwater.

This study serves as preliminary evidence that properly managed botanical gardens can provide traditional amenities (e.g., recreation, conservation) while protecting, and potentially improving, the surrounding environment.

Using Red Butte Garden as a case study, we have shown that while increased anthropogenic activity associated with land management may alter natural systems, there may be a greater opportunity to mitigate negative impacts from urbanization while providing an important social and economic amenity. This preliminary study provides some evidence on the potential benefits of botanical gardens as sustainable green infrastructure through improving environmental quality within urban environments. We conclude that:

  1. Botanical gardens can be designed and built (and in some cases retrofitted) to provide the traditional amenities as well as the benefits of green infrastructure within urban settings.
  2. Botanical gardens can be maintained by professional and science-driven management strategies.
  3. Botanical gardens provide a unique and practical opportunity to conduct multi-disciplinary research on urban ecological systems.

If interested in the details of this research, please contact Zachary Magdol,


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Zachary Magdol and Christine Pomeroy

Zachary Magdol ( is a water resources engineer at Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services, Inc., in Lehi and recently graduated with a M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Utah where he focused on urban stormwater management and green infrastructure design. Christine Pomeroy ( has been a member of the faculty of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Utah since August 2007, and teaches courses in water resources and urban water infrastructure. Her research and teaching interests focus on urban systems and their interaction with natural environment systems.

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