The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum kicks off its third annual “Winter Lights” season tonight, Thursday, Nov. 21, with the poinsettia tree-lighting in the Oswald Visitor Center.
This year’s theme is “Winter in Bloom.” After the tree-lighting, guests will spill out onto the grounds behind the Oswald and Snyder buildings, where blooms of spring and summer have been replaced by glowing blooms of lights.
This is the third year the Arboretum has decorated the grounds around the Oswald Visitor Center and the Snyder Building with its holiday lights display, proving that the Arboretum has as much to offer throughout the year.
In addition to celebrating its grounds in light displays all around the two main buildings, there will be many activities, including a s’mores toasting stand.
“This is our third year for the Winter Lights,” said Peter Moe, director of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. “After the first one, we saw how everyone was having a great time, looking at all the lights. It shows that we’re a year-round organization. In that short time, it’s (Winter Lights) become so popular.” As a result, the Arboretum invested in more lights and displays this year.”
“We went from 14,000 visitors our first year to 40,000 last year with some groups and families coming four to five times,” Moe said. “Where else can you go after dark this time of year and and walk through the gardens? It’s safe, family-friendly for everyone — little kids to grandparents.”
LILIES IN SNOW
In addition to lighted arches and displays, the Arboretum commissioned special water lily lights, made in Greece, first introduced last year.
“They’re stunning and this year we have eight of them,” Moe said. “They really make an impact.” They’re near the Arboretum’s waterfall, which is illuminated to resemble falling water.
Moe gives credit to Wendy Composto, the Arboretum’s signature events manager and chief light installer for Winter Lights.
“She’s so creative with her design and installations,” Moe said. “She knows what people are interested in seeing and creates surprises and makes it fun.”
“This went from a DIY trial three years ago to a gigantic event that has allowed us to expand our member base and get people out in nature all year-round,” said Susie Hopper, Arboretum public relations and media specialist. “This show has turned into a major deal.”
Feedback and responses to social media show that families are beginning to consider a visit to Winter Lights as part of their family traditions for the holidays, Hopper said. A new paved path at the “You Betcha” sculpture makes that portion of the exhibit accessible to all.
To ease Highway 5 traffic and site parking congestion, this year the Arboretum is offering free SouthWest Transit shuttles from Chaska’s East Creek Transit Station, 2120 Chestnut St. N., Chaska, on Friday and Saturday nights. At the station, visitors can buy their entrance tickets (Arboretum members get in free) and take a shuttle to the Arboretum. At the end of their visit, they leave by shuttle bus back to the transit station.
This year, visitors will enjoy ice lanterns and sculptures created by local artist Jennifer Hedberg, featuring flowers and plants foraged at the Arboretum. Hedberg is the author of “Ice Luminary Magic,” a how-to book that shows how to create your own creative ice lanterns. It’s available at the Arboretum and she has a book signing from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, in the Gift and Garden Store.
The Arboretum cafe will open at 5 p.m., allowing visitors a meal before taking in the lights and activities in the gardens, and a cash bar.