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Lights! Candles! Action!

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Jon McGann, exhibits supervisor for Brookgreen Gardens “Nights of a Thousand Candles,” knows the Christmas show is getting close when he begins dreaming about lights.

McGann and five members of Brookgreen’s horticulture staff started work on the project in September, and after testing and tweaking they are ready to begin a three-weekend run tonight, that concludes with a 10th performance on Dec. 20. McGann said he’s gotten help from employees from all departments at Brookgreen and dozens of volunteers as lights were strung garden by garden.

Katherine Rowe, horticulture director at the gardens, said the light show coincides with preparations for winter as perennials are trimmed back following the first frost and bedded down with mulch. She has made sure all the walkways are illuminated and safe for guests at night.

“This year,” Rowe said, “we have more of everything: more candles, more lights, more floaters in pools, more pedestals. That’s a wonderful thing. Crews have been working day and night since September.” She said the workers have gotten excited about the light show since illumination of the 80-foot fir tree began in the evenings at dusk. The tree has 60,000 lights. “It’s very powerful, very exciting,” she said.

Kelley Nash, another member of the horticulture staff, said there are a million individual lights illuminating the gardens, including nearly 5,000 candles. It takes a team of about 30 people more than an hour to light the candles on 1,500 pedestals, 500 floating bowls and 2,400 tea candle luminaries each night of the show.

Rowe said the staff holds brainstorming sessions after each year’s shows to refine the presentation. The cranberry bog in the pool of the Brown Sculpture Court will be repeated. Chinese lanterns are covering some of the bulbs in the Palmetto Garden to add a softer glow. “The continuity helps,” said Rowe, who is overseeing her third light show at the gardens.

A new feature will be a lighted hand-blown glass display by Ed and Barbara Streeter, owners of Conway Glass. Fiber optic cable was run to Anne’s Garden to illuminate the blue and green orbs and reeds around the Tortoise Fountain. The garden will also feature a glowing “Tree of Glass” and a crape myrtle adorned with white ornaments in abstract bird forms.

Ed Streeter said he and his wife blew 800 pounds of glass for the installation. Barbara said the inspiration for the white ornaments in the crape myrtle came from the Child of Peace statue in Anne’s Garden. She said she hoped the tree of glass on the wall would be inviting. Ed Streeter said he cut and sanded 80 pieces of clear, blue, green and turquoise glass for insertion into the wall.

“This little, secret garden is getting a renovation as a result,” Nash said. The glass will become part of Brookgreen’s collection for display in the future.

In addition to the light show in Anne’s Garden, located between the gift shop and the Rainey Sculpture Pavilion, there will be two exhibits in the sculpture pavilion continuing through Jan. 3: “Holiday Memories: Trains, Trees, and Treasures” and “Peace on Earth,” with a horticultural theme. The train exhibit will feature Thomas the Train, something to entice children, according to Jeff Hall of the garden exhibit department.

One of the biggest changes in the light show will be hardly noticed, according to McGann. Efficient LED lighting is replacing many of the old strands. “The visitor may not get excited about that,” he said. “It’s huge for us. It makes life so much easier from installation to tracking the power usage. With the old lights, the further from the power source, the dimmer they got.”

Leading lights of the entertainment scene

Brookgreen Gardens annual “Nights of a Thousand Candles” will be held December 3-5, 10-12 and 17-20 from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are $14 for members and $18 for the general public. Children’s tickets ages 4-12 are $8 for members and $10 for the general public. Entertainment in various venues will include:

Dec. 3-5 | Paul Grimshaw Band and Thistledown Tinkers at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. Vocal Edition and Bates Holman, jazz musician, at 5, 7 and 9 p.m. Bagpipers Peggy and Mark Gaudreau will rove the gardens during each weekend.

Dec. 10-12 | Bill Oberst Jr. performing a one-man rendition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” at 6 and 8 p.m. Susana and Timmy Abell, combining children’s music and puppetry, at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. Melissa Porshia, pianist and vocalist, and TruSol Band at 5, 7 and 9 p.m.

Dec. 17-19 | Mike Frost Band and Palmetto Bronze handbell group at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. Vocal Edition, a choral ensemble, and Paul Grimshaw Band at 5, 7 and 9 p.m.

Dec. 20 | Ron Daise, presenting “The Gullah Christmas Story” a reading of the Christmas Story from the Gullah Bible, and Melissa Poshier, pianist and singer, at 6 and 8 p.m. Paul Grimshaw Band and Bates Holman and Friends at 5, 7 and 9 p.m.

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