The holiday season is here and with it comes colorful lights, decorated trees, music, food, and activities the whole family can enjoy. Did you know that many botanical gardens celebrate the holidays with spectacular lighting displays and a season filled with family friendly events?
Here are 10 garden favorites that will help make your holidays merry and bright.
The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
The garden transforms into a winter wonderland during its Festival of Lights (through December 18). Twinkling pathways lined with inventive lighting displays guide visitors through the garden areas of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. The Succulent Garden becomes an underwater scene of seaweed and floating jellyfish. A sailing brig, which struck near-by reefs in 1850, is animated in dazzling lights. Family activities include Santa’s workshop, a campfire and marshmallow roasting, and a tent where visitors can warm up and wind down with live music, hot food, sweet treats, local craft brews, and wine from area vineyards. The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Northern California is one of the few public gardens sited directly on the ocean’s shore. It is located two miles south of Fort Bragg and seven miles north of Mendocino. www.gardenbythesea.org.
The New York Botanical Garden
This grand dame of U.S. botanical gardens turns its attention indoors during the holidays with the annual Holiday Train Show (through January 16, 2017). Now in its 25th year at The New York Botanical Garden, the show features model trains that travel along nearly a half-mile of intricately laid out track that winds past more than 150 handcrafted NYC landmarks – including the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center, Coney Island – all re-created with bark, leaves, and other natural materials and displayed in the garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Outdoors the winter wonderland extends across the garden’s 250 acres with special tours, holiday music and activities for kids. The New York Botanical Garden is a sanctuary from the bustle of the city and is located an easy 20 minutes from Grand Central Terminal on the Metro North railroad. The NYBG station stop is across the street from the garden’s entrance gate. Metro North has rail plus admissions packages. www.nybg.org.
A Longwood Christmas (through January 8, 2017) celebrates the holiday season indoors and outside at the Longwood Gardens. Holiday displays include a half-million lights adorning 124 trees, with the tallest tree topping over 90 feet. Other outdoor favorites feature the illuminated Italian Water Garden, the Open Air Theatre with its dancing fountains (to holiday music, of course) and Longwood’s train that travels past miniature Longwood landmarks lit for the holiday season. Inside the 4-acre heated conservatory, 50-plus trees are decorated with an array of red, gold and green glass ornaments along with over 6,000 seasonal plants on display – poinsettias, cyclamen, and anthurium. Other decorated trees grace the indoor gardens including a 30-foot floral tree formed with poinsettias, euphorbias, and white phalaenopsis orchids. The Music Room features an 18-foot Fraser Fir tree rotating in a wooden music box decorated with a garland of real musical instruments. Organ sing-alongs with the 10,010-pipe Aeolian organ, strolling carolers, and outdoor fire pits round out the holiday cheer. Longwood Gardens is located near Philadelphia in Kennett Square, PA. www.longwoodgardens.org.
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Trains, trees, and nearly 400,000 lights are part of the merriment at the Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World exhibition (through January 8, 2017) at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Global holiday cultures are the feature indoors with 40 international trees and displays that focus on the authenticity of holiday traditions, including a Germany tree adorned with handmade glass ornaments and homemade springerle cookies, the England tree with antique Christmas cards and mistletoe, and the Eid ul-Fitr display commemorating the end of Ramadan. The Railway Garden incorporates garden design, miniature buildings made from natural materials, and model trolleys and trains. Special activities include carolers, live reindeer and Santa. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is located in Grand Rapids, MI. www.meijergardens.org.
Coastal Maine Botanical Garden
The biggest and brightest holiday light display in Maine lights up the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden during its annual Gardens Aglow festival (through December 31). More than 360,000 LED lights illuminate the central gardens and buildings to create a festive display. S’mores pits, food trucks, art exhibits, shopping, and holiday entertainment delight people of all ages. Step outside the gardens and enjoy more holiday fun at the Boothbay Festival of Lights (through December 31). The charming coastal town of Boothbay, Maine, celebrates the season with a Festival of Trees, a gingerbread display, the North Pole Express heated steam train ride to meet Santa, and a lighted boat parade. The Coastal Maine Botanical Garden is located in Boothbay, Maine. www.mainegardens.org.
The Oregon Garden
Christmas in the Garden (through January 1, 2017) is more than just lights at The Oregon Garden. Ice skating, a German Christmas Market, snowless tubing, fire pits, festive music and carolers, plus food and drink make it a top-rated holiday event. Add in a walk through 500,000-plus Christmas lights and you have great fun for all ages. The magic starts when you enter the Garden and board the Holiday Express that transports you to the Rediscovery Forest, the heart of the holiday festivities. Here you can indulge in gluhwein (a hot spiced wined) and other hot beverages (cocoa, coffee, cider), enjoy traditional German foods, slide down the snowless tubing track or ice skate with your family, shop from artisan vendors, and warm up next to fire pits while listening to festive music and carolers. The Christmas lights adorning the forest include a 100-ft candy cane tunnel, giant 22-ft flowers, shooting stars, and more. Book a stay in the resort overlooking the Gardens and you will be close to all of the holiday action. Oregon Garden is located in Silverton, OR. www.oregongarden.org.
Bellingrath Gardens and Home is celebrating the 21st edition of Magic Christmas in Lights (through December 31). During the event, guests can stroll through a dazzling display which features more than three million lights in 15 scenes with more than 1,100 custom designed set pieces on the 65-acre Garden estate. A bonus is the Bellingrath Home is decorated in holiday finery and enhanced with beautiful poinsettias. The event includes nightly choral performances on the South Terrace of the Home, a Gingerbread Jamboree, and an appearance by the Coca Cola Christmas Truck – a fitting tribute to the Garden’s namesake Walter D. Bellingrath who was Mobile’s first Coca-Cola bottler. The Bellingrath Gardens and Home is located on 900 acres along the Fowl River in Theodore, Alabama, 30 minutes from Mobile. www.bellingrath.org.
Missouri Botanical Garden
Garden Glow, the Gardenland Express Holiday Flower and Train Show and a Holiday Wreath Auction (all through January 1, 2017) are three events that welcome in the holiday season at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Garden Glow features a million lights surrounding visitors amid some of the Garden’s most iconic locations. Nightly events feature holiday music and festivities, food and drinks, and more. Six tracks of model trains and hundreds of festive holiday plants come together to create an indoor wonderland of fun for visitors of all ages during the Gardenland Express Holiday Flower and Train Show. The Holiday Wreath Auction (through January 1) is a silent auction where bidders can vie for one of more than a dozen beautifully created wreaths from some of St. Louis’ finest florists. A special Chanukah: Festival of Lights (December 18) features Israeli music and dance and a menorah-lighting ceremony and the Kwanzaa: Festival of the First Fruits (December 28) is a day of storytelling and musical performances. The Missouri Botanical Garden is located in St. Louis, MO. www.missouribotanicalgarden.org.
San Diego Botanic Garden
After the sun goes down in December, the San Diego Botanic Garden is transformed into a dazzling wonderland during the Garden of Lights (through December 30) with more than 125,000 sparkling lights that illuminate the flora of this 37-acre urban oasis. The magical holiday experience includes nightly entertainment with local blues and jazz bands, food and drink (including hot mulled wine), and numerous family-friendly activities like holiday crafts, marshmallow roasting, and a nutcracker display, plus on selected evenings horse-drawn wagon rides, snow for sledding, holiday carolers and puppet shows. The San Diego Botanic Garden is located in Encinitas, CA. www.sdbgarden.org.
Atlanta Botanical Garden
The annual electrical extravaganza Garden Lights, Holiday Nights (through January 7, 2017) features spectacular light displays at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Nearly two million LED lights are strung throughout the garden including 25,000 just to wrap the Earth Goddess sculpture. New in 2016 is the Walk of Flames – 21 candle flames that flicker in varying colors – and a newly expanded 100-foot-long Tunnel of Light. Favorites such as Glittering Galaxy, Radiant Rainforest, and the Orchestral Orbs with its millions of light colors timed to holiday music on the Great Lawn continue to make the event a favorite holiday tradition. The Holiday Model Trains chug their way around the train garden and a festive Poinsettia Tree stands sentinel in the Orchid Center. S’mores roasting, fire pits, food and drink round out the holiday fun. The Atlanta Botanical Garden is located in Midtown Atlanta, GA. www.atlantabg.org.
MORE GARDENS WORTH A HOLIDAY VISIT:
Amarillo Botanical Gardens – Christmas in the Gardens in Amarillo, Texas
U.S. Botanic Garden – Season’s Greenings in Washington, D.C.
Elizabethan Gardens – Winter Lights in Manteo, North Carolina
Heritage Museums and Gardens – Gardens Aglow in Sandwich, Massachusetts
Idaho Botanical Garden – Winter Garden Aglow in Boise, Idaho
Bellevue Botanical Garden – Garden d’Lights in Bellevue, Washington
Edison & Ford Winter Estates – Holiday Nights in Fort Myers, Florida
Callaway Gardens – Fantasy in Lights in Pine Mountain, Georgia
Denver Botanic Garden – Blossoms of Light in Denver, Colorado
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden – Holidays at the Garden in Belmont, North Carolina
Shore Acres Garden – Holiday Lights in Coos Bay, Oregon
Featured image – Shores Acres Garden Holiday Lights.
Beverly Hurley is the editor of Triangle Gardener magazine in North Carolina. When she is not gardening, she loves to travel.