Garden Lights, Holiday Nights — a holiday social fixture since its inception in 2011 — is set to again illuminate and flicker through Jan. 4.
“In year two we knew we were establishing a new tradition because people were telling us that,” said garden Executive Director Mary Pat Matheson. “And we’re now getting people from all over the Southeast coming to see this exhibition… it’s really exciting.”
The trajectory of the numbers from the show’s previous two runs seems to support those sentiments. Last year’s Garden Lights drew a crowd of about 165,000, an increase of 50,000 from the previous year.
Attendees are invited to become part of organizers’ three-dimensional kaleidoscopic rendering — essentially a mobile portrait comprised of 30 acres of indoor and outdoor displays animated by one million energy-efficient lights.
Garden staffers said this year’s show will be “bigger, brighter and better” than ever.
“People love it right away … and there’s something for everybody in the family to do,” Matheson said.
o NAVIGATING THE LIGHTSCAPE
New features this year include several personalities from the garden’s summer exhibition, “Imaginary Worlds: Plants Larger Than Life.”
The Ice Goddess is among the headliners. The permanent sculpture’s 25-foot-long mane — a tri-colored configuration of lights — is perhaps as much a main conversation piece as its backdrop, the Cascades Garden waterfalls and a meticulously lit stand of trees.
Twin candy cane cobras, each standing 15 feet, are also reinvented “Imaginary Worlds” holdovers. The majestic asps welcome revelers and stand guard over the Alston Overlook.
Also new this year, the garden space’s edible garden sprouts a harvest of illuminated corn. Visitors can stroll through parallel rows of 6-foot-tall stalks featuring a bounty of sparkling ears. The grounds sport an array of unconventional color schemes — the hot, tropical variety included.
“We didn’t want to go with traditional Christmas,” said Matheson. “We wanted it to be really hip, very chic, very beautiful, very contemporary.”
Other attractions abound: a 24-foot-long, 9-foot-tall Poinsettia Wall returns in the Conservatory Lobby with new hues and patterns. A collective of “dancing” orbs, balls with LED fixtures inside that can produce millions of colors in sync and rhythm with recorded music, are yet another highlight on the property.
Garden hoppers will also be privy to the sounds of traditional carolers and a DJ spinning tunes in the Glow Bar section.
Watering holes situated about the place will be serving up a variety of age-appropriate fare, from hot chocolate to wine to specialty drinks like the Rudolph martini.
While celebrating the holiday season is the light show’s central theme, garden reps are also looking to convey their core message.
“We believe that getting someone into the garden is the first step,” said Matheson. “If you try to market just the flowers, you only get gardeners. We need everybody. … We want to be really inclusive, so doing different events and exhibits really draws visitors from all over.
“Once they’re here, they have such a great experience they tend to come back, … and that’s when we reinforce the importance of ecology, plants, horticulture and growing your own food if you can.”
o BEHIND THE SCENES
All the prep work being carried out by elfin creatures within an enchanted forest is a noble notion, but it could not be further from the truth. The closest things are members of an arborist group who shimmy up the garden’s trees like monkeys to hang a collection of iridescent stars for visitors’ viewing pleasure.
The group is part of a small army of on- and off-site designers, artisans and volunteers that bring the garden light show to life.
The show has really become a year-round effort considering planning for next year’s event begins during the run of the current show, garden spokesman Danny Flanders said.
“Because of the intense amount of detail that goes into designing, planning, installing and operating the show, it really involves every single member of our staff, whether they work in horticulture, maintenance, development or operations,” said Flanders.
“Even in year three, it really is amazing to watch this garden be transformed from this place of beauty by day into this incredible winter wonderland by night. You get caught up in the thrill and excitement as the show evolves, and when you see the look on visitor faces, both young and old, as they stroll through, you know that all that hard work was indeed worth it.”
If you go:
o What: "Garden Lights, Holiday Nights"
o When: Through Jan. 4
o Where: Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1345 Piedmont Ave., Midtown
o Tickets and information: www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org
*Organizers advise buying tickets in advance.