At Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, preparations are already underway for the seventh annual Gardens Aglow. After positive feedback from last year’s successful pivot to hold the event in the face of Covid restrictions, the seasonal signature celebration will return in 2021 as a driving experience.
Gardens Aglow runs Thursdays-Sundays, Nov. 20-Jan. 1, plus the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, and every night, Christmas Day through Jan. 1, 4:30-8:30 p.m. The event is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Tickets, available at GardensAglow.org, are sold by the car rather than by the individual and are only available in advance for a specific time slot. Entries are limited to 15-minute intervals, ensuring that traffic will flow smoothly both on the peninsula and along the Gardens Aglow route. Tickets, $40/car for nonmembers and $30 for members, are only available in advance; no tickets will be sold onsite, and patrons must print their tickets before arrival. Cars arriving without tickets will be turned away.
Cars exceeding height restrictions (a nine-foot maximum) will also be turned away, and no refunds will be given. No trailers, buses, limos, or RVs are allowed on the route. Because this is a driving tour, guests will remain in their cars. No food or facilities will be on offer, but those interested are welcome to access Gardenshop online, shop.mainegardens.org, for seasonal shopping.
“Last year, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive,” says Gardens President and CEO, Gretchen Ostherr, about 2020’s event. Comments like, “It was so beautiful. Thanks for reworking it as a drivethrough event so it could still happen this year. We loved it!” and, “It was amazing! Thank you so much for coming up with the concept so we could still enjoy some normalcy this holiday season,” flooded the Gardens’ Facebook account.
“We are thrilled to continue this holiday tradition in spite of the uncertainty around Covid and the Delta variants,” Ostherr continues. “The driving experience allows us to keep everyone safe while still offering people the opportunity to see a fantastic light display with friends and loved ones,” she says, adding, “We heard from many guests last year that they were able to attend with their elderly family members or young children who could not have attended the walking event.” The Gardens anticipates that this year’s experience will be a little longer and even more impressive and immersive. “I expect it will look like a completely different show.”
Despite having to work within the parameters dictated by an established driving route, lighting designer Brent McHale is inspired by the creative challenge. “I have always loved creating celebratory light displays and bringing joy to people, and after helping to install the Gardens’ lights for the past two years, my mind has been running with ideas,” McHale says.
Having worked closely on last year’s display, he has the knowledge, experience, and means to re-envision it. “It’s been a joy bringing those ideas to life,” he continues, “and I hope to create a very immersive experience and showcase the hard work that our team puts into this event.”
Working around a loose theme celebrating two of Maine’s greatest natural resources — its woods and water — even those who have made Gardens Aglow their holiday tradition can expect something new this year. The event is truly a labor of love. The over 600,000 LED lights used (that’s almost 60 miles of lights) are incredibly energy-efficient, amounting to an energy bill of only $120 for the entirety of the 30-night run. Three months of full-staff effort goes into this singular light show, a firm tradition in Maine’s seasonal calendar.
The Gardens is hoping that creative spirit will extend to peninsula residents as CMBG once again sponsors the annual Community Lighting Contest — and anyone who might be considering an entry should start planning now. Contest entrants will be included on a comprehensive map which will be available on the Gardens Aglow website. Visitors will be able to use the map to tour the peninsula and extend their seasonal outing. They can even vote for their favorite displays; winners in both the residential and business categories will be determined by popular vote. Deadline for entries is Nov. 8.
Between Gardens Aglow and Boothbay Lights, the Boothbay peninsula will again be the place to be for wintertime cheer. Experience the Gardens’ explosion of festive color, then enjoy a wide variety of the region’s seasonal activities. For more details and to order tickets, visit GardensAglow.org. For a complete calendar of regional offerings, visit boothbaylights.com.
At nearly 325 acres, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is the largest public garden in New England. Voted #1 on TripAdvisor, the nationally recognized public garden is located in Boothbay, Maine. With two miles of hiking trails, 17 acres of ornamental and themed gardens featuring native plants of Maine, a children’s garden, a sensory garden, and so much more, there’s something for everyone. The mission of the Gardens is to inspire meaningful connections among people, plants, and nature through horticulture, education, and research. To reserve tickets or learn more, visit MaineGardens.org