Dec 6th, 2016

Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights Decorations & Inspirations

Paper fan sun, part of Dominion GardenFest of Lights decorations.

A 5-foot sun made of paper fans casts its imaginary glow over the Visitors Center atrium for Dominion GardenFest of Lights.

Updated 12/14/16

Ask Justin Brown when he and his team began work on this year’s light show and he replies, “We never stopped.” Brown is Operations Manager and External Team Leader for Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights, responsible for setting out the lights that help turn Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden into a wonderland of Living Color for this year’s show. The perpetual preparations take place in a large room in the basement of the Kelly Education Center — GardenFest ground zero — the staging area where staff and volunteers work year-round to create an experience that we hope you’ll find both enlightening and entertaining.

This year, Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights celebrates color. It’s an exploration of the many ways that color impacts nature, influences behavior and informs our experience of the world around us. Outdoors, fountains bubble with luminous orbs, radiant animals prance and prowl and LED spotlights cast rainbows into the night. Perennial favorites like the peacock and our beloved bottle flowers return. And, because we look for new ways to delight you each year, there are cubes of color on the Conservatory lawn, colorful alligator-sized chameleons, glittering flowers in the Cochrane Rose Garden and a halo of light hovering around the Children’s Garden  CWDKids Treehouse.

Communicating with Color

Color is nature’s vocabulary — a language understood across species. Color indicates when food is nutritious and ready to eat (think red strawberries or ripe tomatoes.) Animals dress in disguises that blend into their environment (ducklings and green tree frogs are camouflaged by color.) Color warns predators away from poisonous prey (dart frogs make deadly dinner choices.) And, when wildlife responds to certain color queues, matchmaking is easy (peacocks and cardinals attract partners with their bright plumage.) When you visit, you’ll learn more about color than you ever knew was possible! The Kelly Education Center hallway is lined with the most interesting color facts we could find!

For GardenFest, the Robins Visitors Center, the Conservatory and the Kelly Education Center interiors are decorated with interpretations of the role that color plays in our lives. Shannon Smith, GardenFest Coordinator and Senior Horticulturist, worked with the Garden’s horticulture staff and more than 200 volunteers to create hands-on activities, themed displays, playful symbolism and educational signage to help you experience this world of Living Color.

An Insider’s Look at GardenFest

Your journey through the world of Living Color begins, as all color does, with sunlight: a 5-foot paper sun made of overlapping layers of red, yellow and orange fans casts its imaginary glow over the Visitors Center atrium. Dean Dietrich, Central Garden Horticulturalist, stitched 25-30 gleaming paper fans onto a foam base with fishing line. Look closely and you’ll see gimp plastic lacing “sunbeams” radiating from either side. “Color is simply light, either refracted or reflected back to us,” explains Smith. “So it made sense to begin with the sun.” And because sunlight also makes flowers grow, the atrium is overflowing with bright colorful blooms, happily soaking up the symbolic sunshine.

Paper-moth-trio, Dominion GardenFest of Lights decorations.

In a perfect counterpoint to the daylight of the atrium, the Robins Room next door is a recreation of night. There, where private events are held, Gardener Colten Blackburn chose moonlight imagery for GardenFest decorations: three species of night-pollinating moths are drawn to garlands of moon flower vines and the glow of white orchids. Blackburn hand-cut templates for the moths from photos he stylized himself. Beth Sawyer Kobus, daughter of Garden volunteer Barb Sawyer, used her Cricut silhouette printer to mass produce the intricate detail of almost 250 moths in heavy white and metallic bronze paper. The moths flit among the night-blooming blossoms, some posed in profile and others with wings wide spread.

A paper moon flower-trio, part of Dominion GardenFest of Lights decorations.

Hand-cut moon flower blooms and green paper leaves in the Robins Room trail along pipe cleaner vines wrapped in green florist tape. Garden volunteers hand-cut 174 opalescent blooms, anchoring an ivory star bract in each creamy center with a single brass brad. Blackburn traced the pattern for the green paper leaves from a dried, pressed specimen.

A swag of butterflies drapes the Group Entrance in a riot of color in motion, greeting visitors with a glimpse of the GardenFest decorations that await them. Horticulturist Megan Lacy and her team traced butterfly silhouettes onto recycled plastic soda bottles and then cut them out by hand for the display. The radius of the bottle was perfect for the smaller butterflies, but the larger version had to be carefully ironed with a cloth and low heat and then flattened under a brick to cool. Pressed into shape, the butterflies were spray painted and then finished with gold glitter spray to catch the light.

A swag of butterflies drapes the Group Entrance in a riot of color in motion, greeting visitors with a glimpse of the GardenFest decorations that await them. Horticulturist Megan Lacy and her team traced butterfly silhouettes onto recycled plastic soda bottles and then cut them out by hand for the display. The radius of the bottle was perfect for the smaller butterflies, but the larger version had to be carefully ironed with a cloth and low heat and then flattened under a brick to cool. Pressed into shape, the butterflies were spray painted and then finished with gold glitter spray to catch the light.

Crepe paper-cherry-tree-trio, part of Dominion GardenFest of Lights decorations.

In the Conservatory, nature’s palette of birds, flowers, fruit and vegetables spirals around a holiday tree, representing the portion of the color spectrum visible to the human eye. Around the tree is a virtual orchard of cherry trees that Shannon Smith, Horticulturist Chelsea Mahaffey, Gardener Elise Benhase, Horticulturist Leah Purdy and other staff and volunteers made to echo the theme, cutting rolls of pink crepe paper into 2-inch squares, gathering them into blossoms and hot gluing them onto painted branches.

Crepe paper flower decorations in blue, purple and orange. A great DIY project.

The Kelly Education Center hallway is festooned with fabric garland created by Horticulturist Laura Schumm. She and her corps of volunteers crafted Papier-mâché creatures and crepe paper flowers to show how Mother Nature uses color to communicate. Below the garland are wall graphics, illustrating lots of fun facts about color. The graphics also explore the meaning that man has assigned to colors in different cultures around the world and how our pigments are sourced.

GardenFest decorations, paper-cranes in blue & yellow.

Swooping through a symbolic blue ribbon sky hung with white paper clouds, a flock of hand-folded finches and bluebirds circle above a “pollinator garden” below. They’re part of an origami mobile that hangs in the West Wing of the Conservatory, made by Horticulturists Leah Purdy, Chelsea Mahaffey and a cadre of volunteers. The origami pattern is called “flapping bird” — each of the 500 birds flap their wings when you tug on their tail and head!

DIY paper dahlias from Dominion GardenFest of Lights.

Giant paper dahlias and chains of paper petunias, made by Senior Horticulturist Elizabeth Fogel, Gardener Pam Wood and a group of volunteers, grace mantles in Bloemendaal House — demonstrating that the same color can appear very different, depending on what color it is paired with. The bright blossoms, inspired by a Pinterest post, were made out of scrapbook paper squares rolled into cones and then glued in concentric circles to a cardboard base.

Paper orchids handmade by Colten Blackburn and Garden volunteers. A trio of sepal petals cut from opalescent paper and Blackburn's template forms the base of each bloom. Side petals are cut out of heavy ivory paper. In the center, the flower's anther cap and stigma were fashioned from of the same ivory paper, spattered with metallic gold and purple acrylic. Based on orchids in the Garden's collection, the elegant blooms mimic moonlight in the evening.

The Robins Room’s 128 paper orchids were handmade by Blackburn and Garden volunteers. A trio of sepal petals cut from opalescent paper and Blackburn’s template forms the base of each bloom. Side petals are cut out of heavy ivory paper. In the center, the flower’s anther cap and stigma were fashioned from of the same ivory paper, spattered with metallic gold and purple acrylic. Based on orchids in the Garden’s collection, the elegant blooms mimic moonlight in the evening.

There’s more! See if you can find a halo of ribbon hovering over the holiday tree on the porch outside of Bloemendaal House. Or, spot rays of fiber sunlight radiating from above in the Lora Robins Library. On our next Member Night,  Monday, January 9, 2017, look for tiny globe terrariums strung along a Bloemendaal House mantelpiece.

The talented hands that design displays and tend beds during the growing season at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden find a new medium for our message in the magic and splendor that is GardenFest. As you wander through the constellation of color that we’ve created, take a moment to appreciate what it means, and the passion that went into making it.

If you’re inspired to try your hand at some colorful creations of your own, below you’ll find PDFs of the original templates we made. Whether you’re an experienced crafter or an eager beginner, all you need are some basic supplies and a little imagination!

Susan Higgins writes about what she learns and loves in the Garden, first as a volunteer in PR & Marketing and now as Corporate & Foundation Relations Director.

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  • Barb Sawyer

    A beautiful display and a wonderful article! Thanks so much for both. One correction: Beth Sawyer Kobus (my daughter) cut out the moths using her Cricut machine. Great job done by all!

    • Thanks for the compliment, Barb, and for the correction. We have have updated the original post to give your daughter credit for the wonderful work she did!

    • Jonah Holland

      Thank you Barb. Correction has been made. Thank you for your attention to detail.

  • Michelle

    I just saw all the lights outside. I didn’t see any of these people creations…

    • Jonah Holland

      We hear this all the time Michelle. There’s just so much to see it’s hard to get it all in! Maybe you’ll come back and check it out. We are open until January 9th (Closed Dec. 24-25).