Seated by the windows at The Greenery, a classic diner nestled in the Rainbow Gardens emporium, you can look out at the mountains of Ogden Canyon. Across the street is the entrance to the Ogden Eccles Dinosaur Park and you can head up the road and stop in at the Weber County botanical garden.
Between the restaurant, the boutique-style Planet Rainbow, and “Utah’s Largest Gift Store,” Rainbow Gardens offers enough for a full afternoon of activities. Owner Jenny King Francl says that that visitors tend to be an older crowd, mixed in with young parents continuing the traditions they remember from childhood. But with a resurgence of interest in “retro” dining experiences, market-style variety, and urban exploration, younger audiences are discovering this unique Ogden experience.
The King family, longtime owners of Rainbow Gardens, have been running the place for three generations. In that time, the so-called “Ballroom Boutiques” have expanded from one room to two, the second being a former swimming pool that they’ve turned into a terraced solarium called the Gift Garden. Here buyers can find local and exotic plants, garden decor, home accessories and carefully selected holiday items. None of these products come across as chintzy, no chunks of glitter on poorly shaped butterflies or plastic flamingoes. Jenny says she carefully selects each item with her team, trying to maintain an atmosphere that invites nostalgia while still feeling new.
The same is true of the Christmas Porch, a room in the back of the main shop that feels like it’s lost in December all year long. There are a few pop culture ornaments, but even these obvious sellers are well-crafted. Most of the ornaments are atypical of the Christmas shopping experience: Glass bulbs with branches of evergreens inside, bubble lights in the chimneys of detailed model houses with animatronic figures in the windows, the smells of winter in a bag with ingredients fresh enough that the cinnamon stings the tip of your nose if you hold it too close.
In the main shop, the Ballroom Boutiques, the walls are titled by theme: Soaps and Scents, Gourmet Goodies, Fabulous Fashions. The Soaps area alone has so many varieties it is hard to know where to begin, from artisan soaps to hand-dipped candles and every other scent-delivery system imaginable. Regular visitors Gordon and Maria Milligan, a couple in their twenties, like to peruse each nook before deciding what to buy. Maria says they don’t come to shop, just to experience the place, but they tend to always go home with something. This time it’s a pair of earrings.
Across from the restaurant and Ballroom Boutiques, there’s Planet Rainbow, a smaller shop with local books, new age items and readings for those with interests in the metaphysical, and a cafe on the far end that doubles as a Salt Lake City Olympics museum and gift shop. Gordon buys a pack of tarot cards for purely academic interest. He tells me he’s a collector of hobbies and interests, doing a little bit of everything.
Between the two sides of the center is a hallway, full of poster-size recreations of old postcards showing Ogden Canyon landmarks and work from local artists. At the end of the hallway is My Heritage Fabrics, an award-winning shop that provides classes as well as a good selection of materials for the hobbyist.
After all this shopping, there’s still the food. While dining of the 1960’s has largely disappeared, The Greenery succeeds in making the experience and the dishes feel current and classic. They serve typical diner meals like burgers, pastas, enchiladas, and soups. But they also serve rarities like crab louie salad, a dish that they have salvaged through attention to the flavor and look that made diners enjoy it in the past. And the famous Mormon Muffins. I sit down to dinner with Gordon and Maria and they order six muffins–the menu offers single orders and the sextet option.
Rainbow Gardens is not the only thing to see in Ogden Canyon by far. But it is one trip that should not be rushed. While they have updated their inventory and continually bring in new local artists to brighten up the walls with their work, the attraction for a new generation of visitors should be in the timelessness of the Gardens’ seeming antiquity. Gordon’s father took him there as a child and raved about a hot dog vending machine where he used to spend his change. The vending machine is gone, but the visitors return for the new experiences. For Jenny, who curates the Rainbow Gardens atmosphere, and for Gordon and Maria, who return monthly, the center is as exciting now as it must have been for the older couples eating in the Greenery and browsing the Ballroom Boutiques not simply for nostalgia, but for fresh experiences as potent as the memories of their first visit.