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GardenSMART Episode

Show #49/5810. Garden Lights

Summary of Show

Over 2 Million Lights
Garden Lights, Holiday Nights at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG) features OVER 2 MILLION LIGHTS with over 150 lighted trees and shrubs throughout the garden. Stores Woods alone features 70,000 lights on 1,500 strands that range from 16 to 64 feet. The Crepe Myrtle Allee features a custom designed light string that is made up of 3 different colors. The trees in the allee hold over 1,500 strings of lights with more than 72,000 bulbs.
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Crepe Myrtle
One of Eric's favorite winter trees, or he should say trees for winter interest is the CREPE MYRTLE because of the exfoliating bark, the bicolor bark, architecturally it almost looks like balsa wood. It's such a neat plant all season long, but especially in the winter. Amanda says that year round they get more comments about the Crepe Myrtle than probably any other tree. First of all, people don't know their crepe myrtles because so many are accustomed to "crepe murder,” so many folks cut their crepe myrtle back severely every year. That can be horrible, oftentimes nobody sees them at full tree height. So when they see these crepe myrtles they realize how beautiful they can be. The exfoliating bark, everybody asks about it and it's gorgeous.
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Crepe myrtle In Containers
And regarding crepe myrtles it's a plant that if one wanted to have them IN CONTAINERS they could bring them indoors for some winter interest. It's a very versatile plant, very easy to grow. A lot of gardeners don’t know but they can range from full fledged trees down to little bitty shrubs. So there is a crepe myrtle for your space.
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Majestic Palms
The conservatory at the Atlanta Botanical Garden is one of Eric's favorite conservatories in the U.S. It's impressive and a lot of that is because of the MAJESTIC PALMS. On a year-round basis they really bring a sense of the magnitude of the space. And there are so many interesting varieties here. Eric would like to know from Amanda’s point of view what are some of the ones that particularly stand out? They have hundreds of variety of palms just in this one building, it is a specialty at ABG.
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Palms - Indoors And Out
And PALMS ARE A VERSATILE PLANT. Eric has several in his house. They make a great indoor plant, then in the summer take them outdoors if you have the right kind of shade environment. They really add tremendous interest, there's something structurally that's fascinating about a big palm frond. Eric thinks they provide that sense of lush, tropical relaxation.
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Lights Accentuate Plants
As gardeners, we see and appreciate all these different leaf shapes, all the different forms and different sizes. The LIGHTS ACCENTUATE that at night, they provide a whole new perspective on the beauty of these plants. And, it draws one's eye into areas of the conservatory or areas of the garden one may not normally notice. Eric thinks that’s a big part of what the lights do. Whether one is enthusiastic about plants or gardening, you're now experiencing plants in a way that we wouldn't otherwise experience them.
For More Information Click here

Attracting Wildlife
One thing we often talk about is the way that the garden brings wildlife closer to us as gardeners or as people who are visiting gardens. And something really neat about the conservatory is that WILDLIFE COMPONENT. We don't oftentimes talk about frogs on GardenSMART, but it actually is a really, really neat feature of this space. At ABG they really want people to feel like they're in a rainforest, the full experience. Frogs play a huge part in our environment, thus it is one of their flagship programs. This building opened in 1989 and shortly thereafter they started an amphibian program.
For More Information Click here

Poinsettia Care
Eric wonders about our poinsettias at home. What are some good tips for keeping them HAPPY AND HEALTHY, because they'll survive well beyond Christmas. Correct? Yes, they'll survive well beyond Christmas. The number one thing to remember - don't overwater. For some reason people think they take a lot of water and they actually don't. They are an euphorbia. So, water them, let them dry out, then water them again. Don't water them every day by any stretch. It's a tropical plant, so it has no cold tolerance whatsoever. So keep it away from drafty windows or doors.
For More Information Click here

Winter Containers
The holidays are a fun time to explore what we can do in our homes with containers. And there are so many really, really neat plants that we can use. Most of us when thinking about containers think spring through fall because most of our containers are outdoors. But winter, especially Christmas, is a great opportunity to bring the containers inside and do something fun. Most people don't think of indoor WINTER CONTAINERS the same way they do summer containers. But we can apply the same concept - something tall, something medium, something spilling.
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Show #49/5810. Garden Lights

Transcript of Show

In this episode GardenSMART visits one of the most exciting holiday light shows in the United States. And, while there, get a behind the scenes look at what it takes to make it all happen.

Garden Lights, Holiday Nights at the Atlanta otanical Garden (ABG) features OVER 2 MILLION LIGHTS with over 150 lighted trees and shrubs throughout the garden. Stores Woods alone features 70,000 lights on 1,500 strands that range from 16 to 64 feet. The Crepe Myrtle Allee features a custom designed light string that is made up of 3 different colors. The trees in the allee hold over 1,500 strings of lights with more than 72,000 bulbs. One colorful tunnel is 96 feet long and features over 600 strings of lights. The stunning tunnel bridges the way from the Walk of Flames to the Ice Goddess. Inside the conservatory rotunda, the radiant rainforest is festooned with laser Bliss Lights to provide a rare experience with plants and lights. Around every turn tunnels of light and programed sequences abound. They draw the viewer into a new and unique experience with the garden. This all is the culmination of months of planning and raw creativity and it takes flight in an amazing setting.

Amanda Bennett has worked in the Atlanta Botanic Gardens horticulture department since shortly after her graduation from the University of Georgia in 2001. She's responsible for management and growth of the garden's diverse plant collections and horticultural displays. Eric catches up with Amanda to take a behind the scenes look at this holiday masterpiece.

Eric welcomes Amanda, it's great to see you again. Welcome back to the show. Amanda reciprocates, thanks for having me.

This is one of Eric's favorite times of the year in Atlanta. And, this is one of the most spectacular garden events, he thinks in the United States of America. Amanda thanks Eric for the kind words. Eric would like for Amanda to tell us a little about Garden Lights, Holiday Nights at Atlanta Botanical Garden. They are in their ninth year of holiday lights at the Botanical Garden. In a recent Atlanta Journal Constitution poll they were rated number one for Atlanta holiday attractions, and they're really excited about that. It has evolved over time to one of the best traditions in Atlanta. There is so much fun for everybody here. It's walkable, you get s'mores and enjoy the show.

Eric agrees, it's a spectacular event and something that the community has really rallied around. Oftentimes if you try to get tickets, it's sold out, and Eric speaks from experience. It’s a huge success. Amanda says the lesson is to buy tickets ahead of time.
Since there are millions of lights Eric would love to know as a horticulturalist, as a gardener here, how does that effect the way Amanda does her job on a day to day basis? A lot of people may think, "oh, horticulturists probably hate" holiday light season. That is not true because as we'll talk about, it shows plants in a different light, it really shows them at a season when most people don't even notice them. And that's what's exciting to Amanda. It is a funny dance between horticulture and exhibits to get everything done on time but still, it's really fun. Everyone works well together, they know each other has deadlines and they all work really well together.

Eric sees her point - Many plants are dormant, so it may be considered one of the more boring times of the year in the garden. But the lights allow ABG to really accentuate the architecture of the trees, shrubs, etc. And that's one of Amanda's favorite things about it. She really marvels at how beautifully the trees look with all the lights on them. Even the evergreens, you look at them and they can be green blobs. Then you put lights on them and they show the shape and the architecture. Deciduous trees are her favorite. For example, crepe myrtles, to see a full tree lit like that, you can see the structure. Nothing is more beautiful. Eric is excited, let's go look.

One of Eric's favorite winter trees, or he should say trees for winter interest is the CREPE MYRTLE because of the exfoliating bark, the bicolor bark, architecturally it almost looks like balsa wood. It's such a neat plant all season long, but especially in the winter. Amanda says that year round they get more comments about the Crepe Myrtle than probably any other tree. First of all, people don't know their crepe myrtles because so many are accustomed to "crepe murder,” so many folks cut their crepe myrtle back severely every year. That can be horrible, oftentimes nobody sees them at full tree height. So when they see these crepe myrtles they realize how beautiful they can be. The exfoliating bark, everybody asks about it and it's gorgeous. Thankfully the squirrels usually take care of it before the lights get wrapped on. Then one can really see how beautiful they are. There are many of these throughout the garden and they play prominently into this exhibit. Eric is assuming that's mainly because it's a very easy plant to put lights on. It is easy. Plus most of them are planted in really accessible places, like the allee where they’re standing. It really is easy for the team to get to. But again, their structure is really beautiful and they're so southern. How can you not accentuate them in a southern light show?

And regarding crepe myrtles it's a plant that if one wanted to have them IN CONTAINERS they could bring them indoors for some winter interest. It's a very versatile plant, very easy to grow. A lot of gardeners don’t know but they can range from full fledged trees down to little bitty shrubs. So there is a crepe myrtle for your space. And yeah, you can throw them in pots, they're easily grown in pots. Wheel them in and out. You can even throw lights on your plants too. Architecturally throughout the year they’re beautiful, so it's an added bonus that these are so spectacular when they're defoliating. Amanda points out one fun point of interest - when wrapping crepe myrtles with lights then unwrapping them the bark will look a little bit candy cane like. There will be some lighter and some darker places. It just extends the fun a little bit longer.

The conservatory at the Atlanta Botanical Garden is one of Eric's favorite conservatories in the U.S. It's impressive and a lot of that is because of the MAJESTIC PALMS. On a year-round basis they really bring a sense of the magnitude of the space. And there are so many interesting varieties here. Eric would like to know from Amanda’s point of view what are some of the ones that particularly stand out? They have hundreds of varieties of palms just in this one building, it is a specialty at ABG. In this particular building they focus on palms from islands like Madagascar, the Seychelles, some of the old world islands. They have rattan palms. Many people have rattan furniture or baskets, they have that palm here at ABG. They also have one of the newest palms discovered within the past 50 years, Tahina. Tahina has an interesting story. (Click the link below for more information about this new discovery.) Another is the elephant palm and it’s majestic. There are so many in here and they all have beautiful stories. Amanda would like to talk to every guest about every single palm they walk by. There is a lot of fun in this building.

And PALMS ARE A VERSATILE PLANT. Eric has several in his house. They make a great indoor plant, then in the summer take them outdoors if you have the right kind of shade environment. They really add tremendous interest, there's something structurally that's fascinating about a big palm frond. Eric thinks they provide that sense of lush, tropical relaxation. They almost take you to a vacation inside your own home. Here they use them primarily outside but move them from the outside in the summer to the inside in the winter and plant them in the conservatory. It’s the perfect thing for a homeowner to do. If you have a plant you love, you don't have to let it go in the winter time, just move it inside by a sunny window.

Regarding the Christmas lights display in the conservatory, it's a different type of display because outside lights are either wrapped on things, draped on things or displayed via uplighting. But here they have these really cool, almost little laser pinpoint displays, throughout the entire conservatory. And it's fascinating. The product is called a Bliss Light. To Amanda it looks like a ton of glitter was dumped all over everything. Some people think it looks like little tadpoles all over everything, others talk about it looking like Avatar. So it's just a very different experience in here. And, it's beautiful in here. If you've seen the display outdoors but haven't been in the conservatory, you've missed a big part of the event. Eric thinks the lights look like little stars or snowflakes. This place is so transportive anyway, you feel like you're in a rainforest, but then adding that element of these little colorful lights really is fantastic.

As gardeners, we see and appreciate all these different leaf shapes, all the different forms and different sizes. The LIGHTS ACCENTUATE that at night, they provide a whole new perspective on the beauty of these plants. And, it draws one's eye into areas of the conservatory or areas of the garden one may not normally notice. Eric thinks that’s a big part of what the lights do. Whether one is enthusiastic about plants or gardening, you're now experiencing plants in a way that we wouldn't otherwise experience them. We notice things in the garden that we wouldn't typically notice because now it's being highlighted in a different way. And that's one of their big goals. They really want people to have a great experience with plants. And that means different things to different people. People ask Amanda all the time, “ What's the best way to garden?" The best way to garden is what makes you happy. They really want plants to make people happy. Looking at a giant palm lit with beautiful lights and green sparkles, that's got to make you happy.

One thing we often talk about is the way that the garden brings wildlife closer to us as gardeners or as people who are visiting gardens. And something really neat about the conservatory is that WILDLIFE COMPONENT. We don't oftentimes talk about frogs on GardenSMART, but it actually is a really, really neat feature of this space. At ABG they really want people to feel like they're in a rainforest, the full experience. Frogs play a huge part in our environment, thus it is one of their flagship programs. This building opened in 1989 and shortly thereafter they started an amphibian program. Frogs are great for IPM (Integrated Pest Management), they really help balance things out. A lot of the wildlife in here has symbiotic relationships with the plants and they really want to be able to tell that story. Think about the type of problems that we oftentimes have with insects in our garden. And that, of course, is what frogs eat. If we want to reduce our populations of mosquitoes, et cetera, frogs are great for that.

And they have other amphibians in here as well. They have geckos and other wildlife and they're all here to really help create this beautiful balance going on in this building. And one gets the added benefit of having that real experience. They don't do soundtracks here, what you hear is all real. What would be a typical frog that one might encounter in this conservatory? The most popular and the one who loves to talk to everybody at night is the Coqui frog. When their friends from Puerto Rico who come through as soon as they open the doors they immediately know this frog. It just brings joy to so many people. They do have other frogs in here. For example the poison dart frog. They're not poisonous, but a lot of people feel like they're going to jump out on them. They won’t, they're just as afraid of you as you are them. It’s great to hear them sing.

Eric wonders - as a home gardener, is it practical to introduce frogs to his garden? Probably not. You’re most likely going to have tons of backyard frogs anyway, especially if you live close to water. Just enjoy their sounds and know that they're there creating a really great balanced ecosystem. But don't miss this building. You may think you've seen and heard it all but you haven't till you've been in here.

One of the most iconic Christmas plants of all time is the POINSETTIA. It’s, in fact, a plant that that seems to be almost stereotyped for Christmas, we don't tend to see it any other of the time of year. Although in South America they grow into 25, 30 foot tall trees and they're basically year round plants. But here they're pretty much always treated as annuals, although if we do take care of our poinsettias we can keep them for years to come. Eric would like to talk about a little bit about the poinsettia displays here. And then how do we care for our poinsettias?

At ABG they usually feature some poinsettias in the visitor center, but their most iconic display is a poinsettia tree. They try to mix it up, try to have fun with it. They want it to be a little bit unusual. They obviously love plants here, so they're going to throw a little different spin on it. And they work so well in all the different displays. It's such a vibrant pop of red. When looking at your poinsettia plant, the big red part is the bract, and those tiny little frilly looking red and yellow things in the middle, those are the actual flowers. Poinsettias do bloom in the cooler months which is why you see most of them in the winter time. Although they want to have nothing to do with cold weather.

Eric would like for Amanda to tell us a little about the process of getting the bracts to color because they probably wouldn't do that this time of year naturally. The growers go through a big cold and warm process and a period of time in darkness to get them where they are right now. At ABG they actually order their poinsettias nine months in advance. They order poinsettias in January for next year's display to give the growers enough time to grow them out and really get them in full color for November and December.

Eric wonders about our poinsettias at home. What are some good tips for keeping them HAPPY AND HEALTHY, because they'll survive well beyond Christmas. Correct? Yes, they'll survive well beyond Christmas. The number one thing to remember - don't overwater. For some reason people think they take a lot of water and they actually don't. They are an euphorbia. So, water them, let them dry out, then water them again. Don't water them every day by any stretch. It's a tropical plant, so it has no cold tolerance whatsoever. So keep it away from drafty windows or doors. Of course, it's not an outdoor plant. If you want to keep it year round after Christmas it needs to be in a bright sunny spot. It’s not a plant that wants too much shade. Keep it in a brighter room if you want to keep it after the holidays and don't over-water it. And eventually if you're really good, you're going to have to cut it back. If you do that you should be good to go for quite a while with a poinsettia.

The holidays are a fun time to explore what we can do in our homes with containers. And there are so many really, really neat plants that we can use. Most of us when thinking about containers think spring through fall because most of our containers are outdoors. But winter, especially Christmas, is a great opportunity to bring the containers inside and do something fun. Most people don't think of indoor WINTER CONTAINERS the same way they do summer containers. But we can apply the same concept - something tall, something medium, something spilling. Just have fun. Go to your garden center, pick out some things you like. It's the same concept as when you shop for summer, you just end up with a slightly different, more festive product.

What are some of the best combinations for the holidays or some favorite plants that work well together? They’re actually quite fond of sticks here. Using cut, red twig dogwood, yellow twig dogwood, curly willow, all of those make phenomenal centerpieces for containers. They’re interesting and actually colorful. But they’ll also spray paint the sticks using different colors, thus not stuck with the color stuff comes in. Pick your colors and have fun with it. As far as plants go — orchids are great. Moth orchids do particularly well.

Obviously poinsettias are popular this time of year. They have mostly red here, but poinsettias come in tons of colors. Pink is really fun if looking for something less traditional. But with most indoor plants, put them in a really nice combination in a container and you'll blow your guests away if you're having a party. Go to your garden center, check out the tropical section. Eric notices calla lilies used in containers throughout the garden. Or think about winter bulbs like cyclamen. Cyclamen, anthuriums, peace lilies, a lot of these plants folks already have in their home anyway, so why not grab them and put them together in a really pretty arrangement? Just think about it in a way you haven't thought about before.

In this episode we spent an enchanted day and evening at the Atlanta Botanical Garden and got a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on this amazing holiday spectacle. Eric thanks Amanda, we've had a lot of fun and we learn so much every time we visit Atlanta Botanical Garden. And Garden Lights, Holiday Nights, what a spectacular and special time of the year. Thanks so much for being with us. Amanda reciprocates, it’s always great to have GardenSMART visit. Come back any time.

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FEATURED ARTICLE
GardenSMART Featured Article

By Justin Hancock, Monrovia Horticultural Craftsman
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia

Outdoor entertaining is always more enjoyable with a pop of color. And, painting your picnic table is an easy solution. Click here for an interesting and informative article on the topic.


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