Desert Botanical Garden
LAS NOCHES DE LAS LUMINARIAS
As we approach the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, we turn on our lights with little thought. It gets dark and we need light to complete our daily tasks. Yet in December, light becomes a part of our celebrations. Hanukkah is a festival of lights, Christmas trees are lit as a gathering place for the festivities of the season, the Luminaries of the Southwest light the pathway for the worshippers to find their way to the Christmas Miracle.
It should come as no surprise to learn that my great joy in enjoying December lights takes place in a garden. Botanical gardens from Maine to San Diego light up their gardens to celebrate the season. Can a garden compete with a shopping mall? I believe they can, enticing shoppers to to go walking out of doors in a wonderland of colored lights highlighting nature’s display under the moon and stars.
The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ, has mastered the magic of December lighting in the garden. The trails are lined with 8000 luminaries, (a small candle in a paper bag, anchored with sand), providing a soft glow to guide your way. The desert trees of palo verde, acacia, and others are outlined with tiny white lights and stand out brightly against a dark sky with the mountain peaks of Papago Park silhouetted in waning light of the day. As you enter you realize you are walking into a very special place.
The garden becomes a concert hall as ten mini concert stages are set up among the 145 acres. Before the music begins the sounds of hooting great horned owls, cactus wren, and mockingbird provide their songs.
This year the magic of light is amplified with the special Bruce Munro Sonoran Light installation. Using miles of fiber optics, the garden grounds are lit by sculptures of fireflies, towers, and hanging chandeliers.
The highest point in the garden, the hillside of the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail, is lit from top to bottom. The impact of the light cannot be captured in a photograph. The effect looks like an enormous stain glass window lit from behind. A casual glance could confuse it with a city scape of night lights. Yet walking up the hill through the lights as they change colors from yellow, to red to blue to purple to green to white is an unparalleled experience.
In the cactus gallery big blooms of light stand among the tall cacti.
In the garden entry a light designed to imitate the areole of cactus is a remarkable representation of the site specific design. In the succulent gallery three dramatic spiraling chandeliers hang from the arches. Even in the daytime the prism of light sprinkles the plants below with rainbows on the rocks and leaves.
December is upon us and all the rituals this brings to our lives as we prepare to enter a new year. I like to think that reflecting upon the beauty of a garden lit with possibilities is the best way to begin the holiday season. If you live close to a botanical garden that has lit up the night with lights among the plants then find a night to walk out of doors and celebrate the light.