December 23, 2015

A Festival of Lights, and Imagination

Last evening was uncommonly warm for late December.  Moreover, it was raining.  The confluence of those two meteorological events caused Betty and me to get in our car and head for West Boylston, Massachusetts, to see the 19th annual installment of ‘Winter Reimagined’ at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden.
Getting people to visit a botanical garden in winter is a marketer’s challenge.  The New York Botanical Garden hosts a ‘Holiday Train Show’ in its Conservatory.  The Massachusetts Horticultural Society has a Festival of Trees.  The Worcester County Horticultural Society, which is more or less synonymous with Tower Hill, has come up with a stunning and original alternative: a festival of lights outdoors, and a fairy land of whimsical trees and more lights indoors.  These blog pieces customarily include captions with all photos.  In this case, they seem superfluous.  I encourage you to double-click on any image to see a full-screen slideshow.
The outdoor component is worth a trip all by itself.  The formal gardens around the Tower Hill campus are decked out in lights; each tree and hardscape structure a different color.  The effect is stunning and the view dramatically changes as you walk within individual gardens.  Even the ground covers are strung with lights.  A lot of thought and considerable imagination has gone into creating vistas that cry out for you to stop to admire and try your hand at nighttime photography.
It’s the indoor part, though, that pulls out all the stops.  Tower Hill starts with two exceptional assets: a pair of gorgeous conservatories, the Orangerie and the Limonaia.  Both are filled with mature subtropical plants that are an antidote to a New England winter.  For Winter Reimagined, there are lights.  Not overpowering and not intrusive.  The lights are subtle tweaks that turn an already handsome pair of spaces into something that is, well, romantic. 
The other indoor spaces within Tower Hill are given over to decorated trees and something very special and unusual: an igloo.
First, the trees.  You’re probably thinking, “another Festival of Trees”.  You’re wrong.  Yes, these are artificial Christmas trees and, yes, they’re decorated.  But that’s where the similarity ends.  These trees are decked out to be in sync with nature.  The materials on many of the trees are pine cones, seed pods, nuts and such.  For others, the theme is recycling: everything on the tree is re-purposed from everyday disposable objects.  Think flowers from soda bottles, for example.  A tree sponsored by one of Tower Hill’s caterers has a ‘topper’ of gold-sprayed forks and knives gloriously exploding out of a Styrofoam ball.
You can’t win these trees in a raffle or buy them from Tower Hill; they’re there to admire and to inspire.  Many are the creation of the Tower Hill staff and volunteers.  Some trees are more memorable than others, but the overall effect is spectacular.
Then, there’s the igloo.  In a space beyond the Orangerie is a modest room and, in the room is a large reindeer, some trees sprayed white, and a luminescent igloo.  It’s maybe four feet high and eight feet wide and will comfortably seat three or four children.  It’s made out of (pause for dramatic effect)… plastic milk jugs.  Several hundred gallon-sized containers that would have otherwise had a single two-week existence as a holder of milk or less wholesome beverage have been re-purposed to create a fun environment.  It’s a kid magnet and I hope the adults chaperoning those children take the opportunity to speak to their charges about the wonders of recycling.

There’s no Santa at Winter Reimagined.  This is a non-sectarian celebration that aims to lift everyone’s spirits on the shortest days and longest nights of the year.  The event runs through January 3rd.  It is free to Tower Hill members.  Non-member adults pay $15, seniors are $10, children 6-18 are $5 and those younger are free.  

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