two large trees lit with purple and pink christmas lights with blurry lights on the right side

The Art Behind the Lights

By Katie Mobley, on

This year’s A Longwood Christmas is an artful, joyful celebration of botanical splendor that we are beyond proud to share—and we’re beyond honored that A Longwood Christmas been voted 2022 Best Botanical Garden Holiday Lights by 10Best/USA Today, marking the fifth year in a row that Longwood has achieved this recognition. None of this beauty, however, is possible without the dedication, the unparalleled creativity, and the awe-inspiring talent of the artists behind the display—the stories of whom we are delighted to share. Working in media from trees wrapped in lights to miniature model trains, illuminated tunnels to punctuated metal, our artists inspire us with their vision and astound us with the realities they make possible. Follow along as we share just a few of the many artistic elements—and the artists behind them—that light the way for this year’s fantastic outdoor display.

Among the many new A Longwood Christmas features throughout our outdoor gardens—and among the first to greet our guests once entering the Gardens through the Visitor Center—is our striking Rose Arbor lantern. Built on top of our Rose Arbor’s wishing well platform, this botanically inspired lantern is composed of leaf forms that mimic the nearby leaves of the surrounding Rosa ‘American Pillar’ that bloom in the space in June.

sketches of a lantern design

Initial sketches of the Rose Arbor lantern show the angles and sizing required to fit on top and around the wishing well, as well as the evolution of its pattern. Sketches by Morgan Cichewicz.

The team behind our Rose Arbor lantern includes Outdoor Landscape Manager Troy Sellers, Senior Mechanic/Fabricator Dave Beck, and Senior Graphic Designer Morgan Cichewicz, who together envisioned the structure and, working with our Outdoor Christmas Lights Committee, helped it come to life. The team was inspired by the idea of combining form, light, and shadow to activate the surrounding area as part of its canvas. Driven to introduce a new element to this iconic Longwood space, Sellers tested different lighting effects to illuminate the lantern and, along with Lead Electrician Benny Rigoroso, ultimately rigged the lighting inside of the lantern. Beck led the material selection and fabrication of the lantern, while Cichewicz designed the lantern’s playful pattern.

a large lantern casting light in a pattern on the ground with trees in the background lit up with Christmas lights

The Rose Arbor lantern’s botanical pattern casts a playful spell. Photo by Becca Mathias.

The lantern is composed of 12 metal sheets, with the pattern laser-cut into each. After the pattern was laser-cut into the sheets, Beck welded the pieces together according to its geometric design, and added a small door to allow staff access for any maintenance. The result? A massive geometric form spanning 10 feet in height and weighing more than 1,000 pounds that casts a delightful, inviting botanical pattern throughout the Rose Arbor, making one feel as if they’re walking on a whimsical carpet of roses just steps into starting their visit.

Lighting the way throughout our outdoor gardens is a staggering amount of outdoor lighting—50 miles of outdoor lights, totaling 550,000 lights, on more than 150 outdoor trees, to be exact! Our outdoor lighting is made possible by our arborist team—as well as our arborist volunteer teams who prepare the lights and check the lights weekly—who began installing lights this August; the entire installation process takes approximately 3,000 hours, starting on the perimeter of our Gardens and working their way in.

Among our 150 outdoor trees dressed for the occasion are 75 trees outfitted with stars and 12 with flame lanterns, as well as our tallest outdoor lit tree, our 90-foot Meadow tree swathed in white.

a night image of a meadow garden with a large tree in the background lit up in white lights

The 90-foot Meadow tree is our tallest lit tree this year. Photo by Becca Mathias.

Working with Sellers, Arborist Manager Tyler Altenburger leads the effort in deciding which trees will be wrapped in lights, which should be uplit, which should feature hanging elements such as stars, and so forth. Altenburger makes these decisions based on how best to showcase the form of a given tree, factoring in the health of each tree that is draped or dressed in lights. Some trees are dressed in lights to help light pathways, too. Many, many design decisions go into each of our outdoor lit trees, and the artists behind those decisions and the installation go to great lengths—and heights—to make the magic happen.

an illuminated walk-through tree in blue lights with a silver star

One new feature this year is an illuminated walk-through tree located along the south allée of the Main Fountain Garden, similar to the walkthrough tree that was located near The Terrace Restaurant in years past, but could no longer be supported at that location. Wanting to keep that walkthrough experience available to guests, we’re now offering it at the Main Fountain Garden. Photo by Scott Hummel.

a blue lit christmas tree in front of our chimes tower at night

For the first time, a tree is featured in our Pear Basin. This 29-foot-tall tree is decorated with icy elements and surrounded by trees that glow with uplighting. Photo by Scott Hummel.

Always popular among our guests is the opportunity to walk through an element of our display and feel surrounded by lights. This year, there are many opportunities to experience this exhilarating feeling, by way of a new 150-foot-long illuminated tunnel outfitted with 15,000 lights that leads into our Main Fountain Garden.

a tunnel of pink, yellow, and orange lights

An immersive experience awaits in our new Main Fountain Garden light tunnel. Photo by Becca Mathias.

Our new Main Fountain Garden tunnel joins our 200-foot-long curved tunnel graced with 20,0000 lights along the edge of our Meadow Garden returns this year, creating an illusion that the lights continue without end. Designed by Sellers and constructed by Senior Mechanic and Fabricator Dave Thomson, the Meadow tunnel has grown from its original 140 feet when it made its A Longwood Christmas debut in 2019, to 200 feet with 20,0000 twinkling lights, and continues to captivate guests this year.

Each year brings new opportunities to share the splendor of A Longwood Christmas and new ways for our talented artists to stretch their talents… and new opportunities to share all the beauty made possible by their vision, their teamwork with fellow staff and volunteers, and their boundless creativity.

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