December 6, 2015


The winter holiday lights display at your local botanic garden may surprise you. This one, 'Winter Reimagined' at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston MA is worth seeing.

Is your neighborhood like mine? Deficient in Holiday light displays?   There used to be a time the whole family would jump into the station wagon (what's a station wagon mommy?) and drive around looking for impressive holiday displays. Today who really has time for that, besides, am I the only one thinks that there is something just a little weird about secretly looking at other peoples houses? SO, because isn't 1960 anymore, and because those handful of home who really go all out have seemed to become too...well, disco-y, why not make the experience nicer - visit your local botanical garden. Most have now discovered that Holiday light shows are not only good for getting a little extra bump at the fourth quarter gate, but the shows offer an experience found at few other venues in December.

In the Boston area or New England? Need I say more? After last winter, we are ALL for reimagining it!  How's this for a Wednesday - Saturday night event in December with the family? Hot chocolate, snacks in the cafe, and an entire freaking botanic garden illuminated at night. Awesome.

Even in the evening, the brand new 'Garden Within Reach'  at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden which opened this week looked inviting. The temperatures here in the East have certainly been anything but winter-like, but after last winter, I'm not complaining. It made looking at Holiday lights enjoyable (as in wearying-a-t-shirt-enjoyable).

This past weekend we visited our closest Botanical garden - the Tower Hill Botanic Garden about an hour west of Boston, up in the wooded New England hills of rural Boylston, MA - one of those quaint, New England villages which already looks like a Christmas card with a white church and steeple, a town common and a sub shop. I go there a lot, but I have to admit, on this visit (I was just going for a meeting), I was surprised. In a good way. It was breathtakingly transformed into a Christmas wonderland.

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At the the Tower Hill Botanic Garden's Twig's lounge, visitors can stop for snacks and hot chocolate - This year it's transformed into what I felt was a Swiss ski lodge. Plus, a spectacular sunset vista over Wachusett Mountain and the reservoir. 

Tower Hill started a new display scheme last  year, and this year - well, all I can say is if you are in New England, go check it out. Hot chocolate, a ton of Christmas trees decorated by local garden clubs and designers, and a gift shop that rivals that of Terrain. I guarantee the new Tower Hill will surprise you.

Holiday Lights at the Atlanta Botanical Garden enchant visitors of all ages.

No matter where you live, New York, Denver, Atlanta,  or Chicago - there is a light show near you that isn't tacky or requires that you park, lurking outside someones house. In a botanical garden, you can stroll at dusk, or at night through a garden. You kids can run around, some have a Santa, others have special food events - these shows re giving the corn mazes a run for their money.

The Blossoms of Light display at the Denver Botanical Garden also looks incredibly magical. It runs until Jan 2.

There is a bigger mission here, however. All botanical gardens need our support, and even though we go there for weddings, Mother's Day and for flower shows, many of these botanic institutions need our help - so while you are viewing the Holiday light displays, think about returning on some bright winter day (maybe during the Christmas break, even) with you family, or alone, to snoop through their libraries, as you plant your vegetable garden, or maybe, take in a lecture or two.

And nothing beats the winter doldrums like a steamy greenhouse full of tropical plants. Botanic gardens know that they need to strike a balance between attracting crowds of visitors and dedicating time and money to research, education and in maintaining living plant collections, but it's up to us to show them that we want and need the science part too. Not just twinkle lights.

Here was a surprise - one tree in the'Hall of Christmas Trees' at Tower Hill had decorations made completely from cupcake papers! This also happened to be a tree created by the staff members at the garden, so judo's to them! It was my fav.

Gorgeous, right? A great craft project for the entire family over that long, Thanksgiving break next year.

I 'get' that in a world today where there are Star War's everything, botanical gardens need their big, popular shows to draw in crowds of non-plant people. The Chihuly displays, the Holiday trees, the miniature train displays will always need to co-mingle with the rare orchids. These are plant museums which need to appeal to both mom and dad with the 5 year old girl, to the 30 year old floral design fan who reads blogs and pin's everything that she finds sqee to the plant geeks like us looking for a rare gentian that we've never seen before outside of a NARGS lecture.

Next year, I am going to try making this - started buying cupcake papers today.

What botanic gardens need to do, is to find that sweet spot - that balance between offering juniper bath soap in the gift shop to supporting an expedition to the Republic of Georgia to collect new Junipers species from one of the planets biodiversity hotspots today. Both are kind of important, but on different sides of the spectrum.

Blue LED lights, I feel, have the nicest colors. I avoid the "white" LED's since personally, they are either too blueish or citron-white - a bit like medicine cabinet lights. Manufacturers still need to perfect the color on the white bulbs since they feel too clinical.

If for no other reason, you may just want to visit a botanical garden light display to get inspired - as we did! A couple of trips to Target, and a few hundred bucks, and we spent two days hand wrapping trees- a task far harder than any of the Youtube videos explaining how it is done, failed to mention.

We decided to wrap three trees, starting with this Japanese maple. 10 packages of blue LED lights each had to be unboxed and unwound, only to be rewound again into tight balls of 200 bulbs each. This is an essential task if you want to avoid knots and tangles. Start with the trunk, and work your way up, back tracking down each branch. 

The new LED Holiday lights are brighter and more energy efficient, but they are more costly, so plan on spending about $100  or more per tree. The more lights, the better, but remember, these are longer-lasting lights so you could keep them on a tree for two or three years.

We started wrapping the dwarf birches this weekend, with lights that cover each of the trunks, and as many branches as we can reach with a 12 foot ladder. 

Well, it's a star, but although not quite Tower Hill, our neighbors seem to like it. We've receive three phone calls. This picture doesn't do it justice.


  1. This place looks stunning and filled with so much good vibes! These lights really give you the feel of what the season is all about.

  2. Your work is so great. I wish the Christmas this year I could have more time to do something as you done


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