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Keith Johnson, Deseret News
MaKena Hicks, 8, has her picture taken among the tulips.

Eldon Cannon likens gardening to learning how to ride a bike.

A beginner will likely crash a few times and earn some scrapes before figuring the right way to balance and steer, he said.

So it is with gardening.

There are a few things to learn before taking off, and people should expect to make mistakes before they master the basics, said Cannon, ground services manager for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

His advice: Start with a few plants, learn the best ways to care for them, and then add more as you progress. A slow and controlled effort pays off, according to Cannon.

"One thing that gardening will teach you — it will teach you patience," Cannon said. "Rather than doing too much too quickly without much knowledge, start small. Enjoy it. Have the success. Be pleased with what you have done and how it looks. Learn a little more and then come back the next season."

As part of his job, Cannon oversees the landmark gardens on the grounds of the LDS Church headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City, which

includes Temple Square. Six "stewards" direct the design and planting of the gardens, and a handful of paid workers and as-needed volunteers also help with the process.

In the spring, the gardens are awash in a brilliant show of color, including hues such as pink, white, yellow, purple and orange. There's tulips, daffodils, pansies, forget-me-nots, English daisies and Iceland poppies, among other plants.

Summer gardens have a different look, with some of the smaller plants including marigolds, begonias and alyssum. If you took a walk recently through Temple Square and its surrounding areas, you might have noticed workers tearing up the spring flower beds to make room for summer plants.

Once cleared, stewards such as Larry Tavenner will literally throw plants into various locations in the garden to be planted. This technique of "throwing" the garden was designed to make the flowers beds appear more natural, such as in the summer meadows of Utah's mountains.

"It's not so uniform in the way we craft it, but there is an art to it," Tavenner said. "It takes a lot of testing to make it look nice. We've been working on it for a while now, and we're starting to get it, we hope."

Tavenner has worked for 33 years in the church flower beds. He wasn't trained in school but said he learned his skill through experience and multiple classes.

He enjoys tweaking his designs and carries a binder with detailed notes about what is currently in his flower beds and how he wants to change things. There are yellow sticky notes attached to sketches indicating where specific colored plants should go.

"I'm never totally satisfied," Tavenner said, smiling. "But your knowledge and ability increase as you work with it."

For the home gardener, both Tavenner and Cannon recommend a person spend a little time each day tending to plants and weeding. That way, things don't grow out of control or die, Cannon said.

It also makes gardening more enjoyable.

"If I did nothing but get out there on a Saturday and bump my head against the wall, then it's a chore and I'm never out there to enjoy it," Cannon said. "Spend some time throughout the week in your garden, then the weeds don't get heavy and you won't get discouraged."

Tavenner's advice is to "keep things bite-size so you can handle it."

The two also advise home gardeners to properly prepare their soil and research the best location to plant specific flowers. If a flower thrives in sun, place it in a well-lit location. Other flowers prefer shaded areas, and a local garden shop can help you determine what works for specific areas in your yard, Tavenner said.

For Cannon, soil preparation is one of the most important things a person can do. He encourages the use of organic material, whether it be a type of mulch, manure or other material. It creates a rich bed for plants to thrive, he said.

But above all, the men say people should just enjoy digging their fingers in the dirt and watching their flowers bloom.

"The Lord made wonderful things you can plant as flowers," Tavenner said.


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