The garden began in 1930, when Dr. Walter P. Cottam, co-founder of The Nature Conservancy and chairman of the Botany Department at the University of Utah, began using campus land for plant research. In 1961, the Utah legislature designated the University's campus landscape as the State Arboretum. In 1983, the University dedicated 100 acres (0.40 km2) at the mouth of Red Butte Canyon for a regional botanical garden.
Red Butte Garden hosts a series of popular summer music concerts as well as floral, sculpture, and other art exhibits. The garden also offers many nature-related classes and events.
With more than 8,000 trees on campus, the U is home to the State Arboretum of Utah, and the U’s Red Butte Garden will host the State Arbor Day Ceremony on Arbor Day, April 24, 10 a.m., followed by a ceremonial tree planting.