In this episode of In The Know: All is Bright, we explore how Descanso Gardens, a botanical garden near Los Angeles, transforms into a captivating, Enchanted Forest of Light for the holiday season! In The Know sat down with Juliann Rooke, the executive director at Descanso Gardens, to learn the history and process behind the magical exhibition.
According to Rooke, the Enchanted Forest of Light is the garden’s most popular special event. “I was looking for a way to attract visitors to the garden during a slower time of the year, and I know that gardens and museums across the country were doing things for the holidays to inspire guests to come to their facilities,” says Rooke.
Rooke knew that the holiday attraction would bring in visitors who were visiting the park for the first time, so they wanted to use the Enchanted Forest as a way to get people excited about the gardens.
“In the first year, 70% of the people who came to the show had never gone to Descanso before,” she says. “Before Enchanted, our daytime attendance was about 250,000 visitors a year and now it’s half a million a year. We sell out most nights. As soon as people go on Christmas break, every one of those nights becomes a sold out situation.”
The Enchanted Forest of Light features 12 different exhibits, with new additions getting rolled out every year, keeping things fresh for returning guests. And each exhibit is created with the garden in mind, as the Enchanted Forest as a whole serves as an homage to peak season at Descanso Gardens.
The Flower Power exhibit for example, which is the first exhibit that guests see when they enter the forest, is a tribute to the 40,000 tulips that guests flock to Descanso Gardens to see during the spring. The tulip exhibit is made out of 4,000 illuminated tulips, which change colors throughout the experience. According to Rooke, the day the lighted tulips are removed, 30,000 real tulips are planted in preparation for spring.
Other attractions include an all-new installation from artist Tom Fruin called Camouflage House. “It’s a mosaic tile house that really reflects the beauty of Mulberry Pond,” says Shannon Dillon, the PR and Marketing Coordinator at Descanso Gardens. And then there’s the Symphony of Oaks exhibit, which according to Rooke, is the centerpiece of the Enchanted Forest.
“The trees are the star of this show,” says Rooke. And with one look at The Symphony of Oaks, it’s easy to see why. With rings of lights surrounding huge oak trees, the installation really shines a light (literally) on the beauty and grandeur of the massive trees. “That was [us] really wanting to highlight our 3,800 oaks,” says the director.
If you’re looking for a more kid-friendly, interactive exhibit, there’s the Luminous Lawn, where you can run around a massive lawn, controlling a series of lights by walking on top of them.
“This main lawn is where people run free. Whatever we put here, whatever we are doing, we want it to be something that kids are playing on,” says Rooke. “We’re thinking about different things in the future, but this is always going to be a place to play.”
To Rooke, the main objective of the Enchanted Forest of Light is to “inspire people to have an appreciation for nature and Descanso Gardens.” And judging by the success of the exhibition as well as the raving reviews from customers, the Enchanted Forest is achieving that goal.
“I had a gentleman come up to me and he said ‘I’ve lived on this earth for 86 years, and this is the most wonderful experience I’ve ever had.’ And that really touched me,” says Rooke. “I think most people really, really love it. I wanted to design it for ages 1 to 99. People are looking for experiences, and families are looking for something to do together.”
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