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Winter Garden Aglow Tradition Draws Thousands To The Idaho Botanical Garden

Idaho Botanical Garden

Each year, the Idaho Botanical Garden strings up thousands of twinkling lights, for the annual Winter Garden Aglow.  The event begins tonight.  Last year, we caught up with a dedicated group of volunteers who were putting the final touches on the annual event.  Here’s a look back:

As thoughts turn to Thanksgiving, twinkling lights start to pop up in neighborhoods and in botanical gardens across the country.  Coos Bay, Oregon’s Garden boasts 300,000 lights.  In Denver, it’s one million lights.  Winter Garden Aglow at the Idaho Botanical Garden is a little smaller, just over a quarter million lights.  It takes a small army of volunteers to string and tie all those thousands of bulbs.

Ladders dot the landscape at the Idaho Botanical Garden, as volunteers encircle trees and bushes with strings of electric lights.

Rebecca Needles wrangles her volunteers.  She’s the Garden Manager and she orchestrates the hanging of the lights.  She somehow keeps track of all the people, and 250,000 tiny bulbs. “I’ve only gone over the boxes of lights we have, like 75 times, so I know how many boxes of what kind of lights we have, so that’s how I keep track, it’s just repetitive, over and over again, so.”

Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
Volunteers string lights in the trees.

This giant display grew from humble beginnings.  Fifteen years ago, it started with just 15,000 lights.  As the Head of Horticulture, Rod Burke oversees all the plants in the Garden. “That was more lights than I had ever seen in my life, I think, and they were all clear, mini-lights, one little piece in the Garden and everybody ooed and awed over that.”

The number grew and now 25,000 strands of bulbs decorate the Garden.  Over the last few years, 35 percent of the lights have been converted to LED.  Burke says they cost more up front, but they last a lot longer.

Needles’ volunteers use LED strings to turn a tree into a giant candy cane. “The bottom part now is the red LEDS and then they’ll do a bunch of clear and then they’ll go to red and clear as far up as they can get.”

The workers use a huge scissor lift to string the lights around the tree.  Terry Hammons is one of the volunteers.  “I think it’s going to be the signature piece in the Garden when it’s all said and done, just because of the candy cane feature of it, so, it’ll be nice.”

Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio

It takes more than 3,000 volunteer hours to string the lights, almost two months of preparation time.  Then, during the six weeks of Winter Garden Aglow, Needles and her staff have to check a quarter million lights.

“We walk the entire grounds, make sure every light is still working, we replace the ones that are broken, the strands that don’t work as we go along,” says Needles, “because people break them, animals break them, the wind breaks them, so it’s kind of a daily fix.”

The Garden expects 36-thousand people will come to Winter Garden Aglow, including volunteer Terry Hammons.  “My kids love it, I have an eighteen-year-old and she’s been out here for six years now and she still has the excitement as when she was little, so, it’s great to see.”

Head of horticulture Rod Burke will also come as a spectator, but he usually waits until the first snowfall. “Personally, that is the night that I’m coming if there’s a little bit of snow, I might be shoveling walks while I’m here, but, it just makes it, it’s a different world.”

Credit Idaho Botanical Garden
Idaho Botanical Garden

This year you can take a preview tour of Winter Garden Aglow online.  The event runs tonight through Sunday, then again November 30 through January 6, 2013.

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio

As Senior Producer of our live daily talk show Idaho Matters, I’m able to indulge my love of storytelling and share all kinds of information (I was probably a Town Crier in a past life!). My career has allowed me to learn something new everyday and to share that knowledge with all my friends on the radio.

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