Oct 18th, 2021

Naturally Connected: GardenFest

This year’s Dominion GardenFest of Lights is all about how each of us is naturally connected to ourselves and each other. The theme for this year is “Naturally Connected”. Once the theme and layout are thought of then the Horticulture team starts preparing the lights around the Garden. GardenFest is the biggest event each year! At a time when the blooming season for most flowers tapers off, this event brings life right back into the Garden. You will find even vivid and colorful lights resembling flowers.  The holidays are a wonderful time of year where individuals get together to enjoy the company of loved ones and we are honored to welcome so many of you to our Garden with your loved ones as part of your family tradition.

Flowers in yellow lights during this year's GardenFest theme Naturally Connected.

The result of all this hard work is always spectacular, but have you ever wondered how it all comes together? We will have over a million lights this year! That’s a lot of coordination.  Each year Garden staff and volunteers plan, design and craft the theme and color schemes, new forms and features. The process of GardenFest is very well orchestrated with lots of attention to detail because of all of the pieces involved in the sudden change to the landscape. For example, right now we are in the midst of bedding changeout where we pull out summer annuals and plant 32,000 bulbs for spring, layered on top with violas and other winter-hardy plants. “We’re trying to set out lights where bedding changeout isn’t going to impact it because it’s difficult — well it’s impossible to put lights in the Central Garden beds until the summer displays come out and they plant all the bulbs,” Exhibitions Assistant Mary Lincoln explains.

“For example, on bushes, we tend to use two-pronged lights because if you use two-pronged lights on the ground the water gets into the connections much easier,” Lincoln says. Out of the many colors of light, cool colors are favorites because they keep a neutral atmosphere.

Poems of Positivity sculptures by Orlosky Studio at this year’s Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights Naturally Connected at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Director of Education and Exhibitions Kristin Thoroman explains, “We want to highlight the idea of people coming together, and nature and humans interacting based on everything that is going on with the pandemic.” Natural restoration has been a theme at the Garden for the majority of this year. “That theme came more out of what’s happening in the world right now and how can we focus on the Garden as a celebration in some way,” Thoroman adds.

What’s New This Year at GardenFest

A major question is what is new this year and how can we top the number of lights and attractions of the previous year? This year, we’ve partnered with Orlosky Studio to create three Poems of Positivity art installations.  Visitors have helped create the “poems” on each of the light columns that make up Poems of Positivity.  “It’s meant to be uplifting — It’s like what can we all gather around that is positive and makes us feel good?” Thoroman says. Also, new this year is that the North Wing of the Garden will be featuring a 25-foot, live-cut tree. The Garden is working on its sustainability efforts and trees are a renewable resource. We can’t wait to smell that fresh pine scent in the air!

Also, new this year, look for a “tea party” in lights with various different animals/characters coming together around a giant teapot. We love our pollinators and we are celebrating them with a giant walkthrough beehive with flowers all around, to signify the connection between pollinators and plants and our environment.  Plus, since we can’t forget the importance of education we will have the life cycle of a giant butterfly in lights! Plus look for old favorites like the unicorn/Pegasus and the peacock.

This year we are bringing back some more favorites that we had to put on hold last year due to COVID.  We’re bringing back the crowd-pleasing trains in the Kelly Education Center — this year’s theme is “Farm to Table.” Enjoy the cozy Library with Reading Room and gas fireplace when you need a break from the cold. The Kelleher Warming Fire is also back this year! Take a break for some hot cocoa and s’mores (for purchase) around the fire in the Children’s Garden.  Look for a botanical tree in the Lora Robins Library and trees decorated by Henrico County Public School children in the Kelly Education Center hallway.  Look for a spider web maze this year! Meet your friends and family at the Pedestrian Plaza in Parking Lot B – a gathering space for guests waiting for their parties to arrive. Enjoy seating and outdoor heaters as you wait.  As always, we’ll have food available for purchase in the Garden Cafe and great shopping in the Garden Shop.

Dominion GardenFest of Lights is something that is special to visitors, volunteers and staff too. It brings so many memories to so many different people and has become a rich family tradition.  If you haven’t noticed,  this is what this year’s theme is all about. Naturally connected with the plants and people around you. What better way to connect than through joyous festivities such as the Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights.

Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights
November 22, 2021 – January 9, 2022
Nightly 5 – 10 p.m.; closed Thanksgiving (Nov. 26), Dec. 24 & 25

Malik Glaspie is a graduate of Norfolk State University with a bachelor’s of arts in Journalism/Mass Communications. His hobbies include reading manga, listening to music, and photography.

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