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Botanical Gardens Bring the Spirit of the Season to Light

Botanical Gardens Bring the Spirit of the Season to Light

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

This year, COVID-19 has upended our holiday plans and traditions like nothing most of us have ever experienced before. Whether it’s travel restrictions, no Christmas parties, or visits to the mall for a photo with a masked Santa, precautions to keep the virus from spreading influence how we celebrate and with who. One popular tradition is relatively unaffected, however: botanical gardens’ holiday light displays. While they may limit the number of visitors in the garden at any one time, most shows are entirely outdoors, so a garden can offer everyone a fun, safe experience.

In fact, this year these shows are so popular, many are sold out. So for everyone who doesn’t live close enough to visit one of these gardens, or worse, is in a risk group that keeps them indoors or quarantined away from others, here is a virtual taste of six botanical gardens that you can enjoy from the comfort of your couch.

But these virtual visits aren’t just about holiday lights, because a number of these gardens offer so many ways to engage from home. Many have classes for all age groups in gardening, photography, cooking, or crafts. Some, like Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, have activities like sing-alongs. And if you simply want to look at beautiful landscapes, all have videos of their gardens in bloom in different seasons.

If you can’t be there in person, visiting a garden at home in your pajamas is the next best thing! Hopefully it will encourage you to put these gardens on your bucket list for an in-person visit one day.

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Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA

Over 1000 acres of gardens, conservatories, fountains, woodlands, and meadows comprise one of the world’s top gardens, and much of it is decorated for Christmas. Our Gardens, Your Home is designed to give you the Longwood experience when you can’t physically be there. It’s where you can find a preview of their light display, A Longwood Christmas, and at-home sing-alongs with the famous Longwood Organ. Other, non-holiday related offerings include a video about the star attraction of the Fall Chrysanthemum Festival, their incredible thousand-bloom chrysanthemum, as well as gardening tips from Longwood Gardens staff.

Our Gardens, Your Home:


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United States Botanic Garden, Washington, D.C.

The oldest botanical garden in the United States, 2020 is the U.S. Botanic Garden’s 200th anniversary. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has kept the in-person celebrations to a minimum, but you can check out our national gardening treasure at USBG at Home: In addition to tours of the gardens in all seasons, there are online lectures and workshops, kids activities, even cooking and yoga classes.

Virtual and video tours:

Holiday concerts:

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Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago, IL 

This “living plant museum,” 20 miles north of Chicago in Glencoe, sits on 385 acres adjoining Lake Michigan. Besides the 27 gardens, it is renowned for its ornamental plant trials, Chicagoland Grows plant breeding program, and commitment to conservation. In only its second year, Lightscape is CBG’s dazzling and wildly popular outdoor light and sound show. The Chicago Botanic Garden has lots of online horticultural info, virtual tours, and classes (including how to make a felted hedgehog!).

Lightscape 2020 is completely sold out. Here’s a taste of Lightscape 2019:

Plant information page for the home gardener:

A tour of the garden in autumn:

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Denver Botanic Garden, Denver, CO 

This 24-acre garden sits right in the heart of urban Denver, and showcases plants that thrive in the region’s challenging climate. For 30 years, the DBG has offered Blossoms of Light, a holiday display featuring over half a million lights. The glowing scene is especially magical in the snow. Home gardeners in the region will find the Gardens Navigator website an invaluable resource. Other pages include Plant Select, PlantTalk Colorado and the pro-tip Plant Something Colorado. There are even online games for kids, including coloring pages and Biodiversity Bingo.

Blossoms of Light:

Virtual tours of the gardens, including the Japanese Garden, spring bulb display, and other exhibits.

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The Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Built from the remains of a limestone quarry in 1904, The Butchart Gardens was declared a National Historic Site of Canada, and is still owned by the Butchart family today. There are Japanese, Italian, Mediterranean and sculpture gardens, as well as a Children’s Pavilion and Rose Carousel.

The Butchart Gardens Magic of Christmas video:

A Year at the Gardens:

The Butchart Gardens YouTube Channel:

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Christmas at Kew Gardens, photograph bym.shattock, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Royal Horticultural Society, United Kingdom

The RHS is the big kahuna, one of the largest and oldest horticultural institutions in the world. Everything they do is larger than life, from their famous flower show to their amazing holiday light shows in multiple locations around the UK. It’s easy to spend hours down the rabbit hole of this website, especially touring the many breathtaking gardens.

Christmas at Kew:

2020 RHS Chelsea Flower Show:

A tour of Wisley from the sky:

Up to the minute information on all these gardens and their events can be found on their YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

No matter where or how you are celebrating, all of us at GardenSMART wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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