Garden Lights, Holiday Nights Logistical Achievement in Technical Production

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Garden Lights, Holiday Nights

Logistical Achievement in Technical Production


Glittering with an astounding million and a half energy-saving LED bulbs, the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s “Garden Nights, Holiday Lights” was an innovative event designed to complement the beauty of nature with elegant and magical illuminations. The result was named to Forbes Magazine’s top 10 Dazzling Holiday Light Displays in the world.


Our company was engaged by Atlanta Botanical Garden to install this immense and intricate holiday light display, working in tandem with the Garden’s team of landscape lighting designers. Our services included extensive wrapping of LED light strings around the Garden’s trees and shrubs, and creating numerous cone trees from light strands. Our theatrical team enhanced the displays with scenic lighting and gobo accents in the surrounding gardens and architectural elements. The job involved close work with various departments at the Garden to coordinate installations with site maintenance, plantings, public opening hours and events.

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Hailed as one of the top 10 Dazzling Light Displays in the world by Forbes magazine, the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Garden Lights, Holiday Nights ranks right alongside the Champs Elysees in Paris, the world’s largest floating Christmas tree in Rio de Janeiro and displays in Colombia and Rome. What an amazing achievement for an event in only its second year!

The self-guided walking tour featured a staggering million and a half LED bulbs and over 104 miles of lights. On a business level, the goal of the event was to generate visitors to the Botanical Garden during their slowest season. It would provide the city with an innovative and unique light spectacle that would artfully highlight the sculptural shape of trees and plants and fill the Garden with the joyful and sparkling spirit of the holidays. The objective of our services was to work hand in hand with the Garden’s designers for three months to bring this event to fruition. The display would be open to the public nightly for seven weeks, beginning November 17, 2012, therefore the system should be robust enough to withstand the elements over this long period. Finally, the show needed to be carried out in a way which supports the Botanical Garden’s commitment to the environment and the plants within its walls.
The many tasks involved in this event were divided into two broad types of installation. The vast majority of the extensive install time was spent with string lights and hanging illuminations. The string lights were everywhere, bringing vibrant and diverse visual themes to every part of the Botanical Garden and creating an overall brilliant effect. In the forest, we wrapped the tallest tree trunks in a single color of lights or with candy cane stripes from the ground to 60’ high. These massive columns were 4’-5’ in diameter, requiring at least two people to wrap each tree – usually at least one more to check spacing and assist on the ground. In this area were also 40 glittering red and white stars hung overhead from cables in trees 40’ – 60’ high. To install these and the high tree wraps, we used scaffolds, lifts, extra-long ladders and worked in tandem with professional tree climbers.
Different types and sizes of tree required different wrapping techniques. One of the most impressive sights of the whole show was the “Twinkling Terrace”, approached by a path lined with arching crape myrtles. Every delicate branch of crape myrtle was painstakingly wrapped in braided blue and green light strings and angled to create the archway effect. We hung bright green string lights so uniformly on the low boxwood labyrinth, that they gave the appearance of light nets. The combined effect of these and numerous other decorative trees elegantly dressed in complementary colors was to turn the terrace into a twinkling, rippling oasis in the middle of the city.
String lights were used in a different kind of application on “Cone Tree Hill.” This collection of dramatic transparent cones of light was created entirely of light strings tied to the top of a pole and extending down to a circular base. Even more spectacular, one of these trees stood 27’ high over an 18’ wide stone fountain, with light strings continuing down 4’ below the water’s surface giving an incredible mirror effect.
Complementing the miles of string lights were also other light types, installed by our theatrical team. There were stationary and color-changing architectural designs to illuminate the Garden’s buildings; and spotlights and uplighting to highlight and tone various features such as fountains, sculptures and the impressive underbelly of the canopy walkway. After journeying through the inside rainforest, guests emerged into the “Glow Bar,” an outside refreshment stop where at 8:00PM every night we turned up the heat with disco balls and subtle moving lights to accompany adult beverages and DJ music. Elsewhere, there were gobos to direct the way; and designs such as the iridescent green, purple and blue spotlights hidden in the shrubbery of the “Gleaming Grove” to give atmosphere and interest to an otherwise dark pathway. The display also included special water effects. Submersible lights in the multi-tiered waterfalls of “Cascade Gardens” were fully programmed to music and choreographed fountain movement, creating fantastic liquid lights.
We selected each of the fixtures to best achieve the design noted in the designer’s drawing, considering also weather-hardiness and energy requirements. We had begun installation an astounding three months prior to the show’s opening, with a team of 8-12 on-site for five days a week beginning August 6 - rain or shine. The scope and nature of this project made it physically, logistically and mentally arduous. The string light wrapping – particularly of repetitive patterns such as the candy cane tree trunks and cone trees – needed meticulous attention to ensure immaculate spacing and correct tension. Delicate applications, such as the crape myrtle trees, were especially tedious, requiring precision and dexterous work for hours or days at a time.
For this client it was imperative that we were particularly cognizant and respectful of our environment. Working among trees, shrubs and flower beds, it was important to place every foot, tool bag and ladder with great care to avoid any unnecessary disturbance to delicate plants, soil or bulbs. Each day and week of installation was carefully planned around planting and blooming schedules, and sometimes extra measures were necessary such as laying boards under ladders to protect the fragile forest floor.
We worked closely with several groups: the Botanical Garden, a team of landscape lighting designers, Garden engineers and other suppliers. Regular walkthroughs were conducted to assess progress, and task lists were updated on a weekly – sometimes daily – basis. It was important to keep up with the schedule, as any delay would impact other parties. On the other hand, we had to remain flexible as sometimes the client or designers wished to change the color scheme, focus or layout, often requiring complete dismantling and reinstallation.
In line with the Garden’s commitment to the environment, the 1.5 million lights were almost exclusively energy-saving LED lights, run with new timing controls to minimize power consumption. Amazingly, the entire show ran on only 300 watts of power a day, less than the average amount used by 15 homes. At the end of the show, we removed all the lights to allow the plants to recover – a strike that took five weeks! All the strings were labeled and color coded and stored away ready for next year’s installation.
The display received numerous accolades and ultimately was attended by a record number of visitors. This bold project was the only one of its kind in the Southeast United States and offered a brand new take on the idea of holiday light shows. For us, the magical winter wonderland had been an immense feat of endurance and production which we had accomplished with flying colors!
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