The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is blooming in a different kind of way right now. Dominion GardenFest of Lights uses over 500,000 lights in the outdoor display in the expansive gardens. This year’s marine theme of H2Woah! is characterized by fish, jellyfish, coral reefs, sea turtles, and giant octopi, all made of lights and recycled material. The intricacy of this garden takes planning that starts months in advance, beginning as early as mid-August this year. In fact, Lewis Ginter is already working to prepare for next year, with 2016’s theme set to be determined next week.
Like most attractions in Richmond, the gardens of Lewis Ginter have a historical background that some may not be aware of. The idea of a garden came into being in 1926 with the death of its previous owner: Grace Arents. In her will, Arents granted ownership of the property and gardens she had already grown to Mary Garland Smith. The will also stipulated that the state should reclaim the property upon Smith’s death and make it a botanical garden in honor of Lewis Ginter, the property’s original owner. In 1982, botanists and horticulturists formed the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Inc. in order to preserve Arents’ wishes for the estate. Two years later, the garden opened up to the public and began building the reputation for natural, sophisticated beauty it still holds today. The Dominion GardenFest of Lights has also reached a historical milestone, with 2015’s lights display marking the 30th year of this tradition.
Lewis Ginter brings together much more than just lights each year. Reading plaques and talking with employees illustrates just how many personal touches and hours of work go into putting on such an elaborate display. For this year’s theme, volunteers came in to work on creating coral reefs and flowers from bottles, stingrays from home insulation material, and jellyfish from bits of plastic. The decorations tell a story, not just of lights or an under the sea theme, but of protecting our environment and its horticulture.
GardenFest of Lights is open nightly from five to ten p.m. (closed Dec. 24-25), with adult tickets costing only $12. Tickets provide access to beautiful gardens, extravagant light displays, a fire pit, the Conservatory filled with exotic plants, botanical decorations, and two model train displays in the Conservatory and the Kelly Education Center. Hot chocolate, coffee and s’mores kits are also available for purchase in the Children’s Garden. Look on the Garden’s website for special events like Merry Mondays (with Santa sightings and story time), Caroling Tuesdays, Crafty Wednesdays, Musical Thursdays, an Instagram contest, and other special events.
All photos by Helen Roddey.
This post has been updated as of Dec. 9, 2015 at 11:15 a.m.