Christmas in the Gardens
December 24-30, 2018
By Amber Davis
Central Arkansas is home to one of the most unique holiday lights displays in the country – the Holiday Lights Show at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs. Guests can enjoy a multitude of stunning arrangements spread over eighteen acres within the Gardens.
“It is quite mesmerizing as you stroll through the woods,” said DeAnna Beam, a Bryant resident who has been to the Holiday Lights Show approximately a dozen times throughout the years.
This is the sixteenth year for the Holiday Lights Show, which has grown significantly since its humble beginnings. The first year Garvan Gardens hosted the display, all of the lights were strung by the employees. “It was all hands on deck,” said Sherre Freeman, marketing director for Garvan Woodland Gardens.
Freeman has now worked at the Gardens for seven years, and the show has more than quadrupled in size during that time. Part of the growth is due to an insurance settlement after an ice storm that allowed the Gardens to expand the show to more than three million lights. Over the following years, more displays popped up, and now the Holiday Lights Show features more than 4.5 million lights.
It takes a professional crew of ten to twelve people, working from mid-September until November to string all of the lights in the park.
Freeman noted that many families make a trip to the holiday lights show an annual tradition. One reason visitors enjoy coming back is that the show changes every year. Cambre Pekron, a Benton resident, has gone to the show for approximately 10 years. Pekron, her husband, and their five children look forward to the show each year. “Over the years Garvan Gardens has added more and more interactive exhibits. We love seeing the new additions, especially anything that children can walk through or touch.”
Beam said that she goes back year after year because the show is “bigger and better every time.” She continued, “I spend hours there, as it is invigorating and magical at the same time.”
This year, the Holiday Lights Show is divided into several sections, each with a different theme. There is an area that is designed to elicit nature, but with a twist, that contains a water fall, a sea serpent and origami gees. Another section of the Garden showcases a model train garden. Yet another display features six-hundred orbs suspended above the ground to evoke a dandelion field.
One crowd favorite is the fifty-foot-high tree that plays a 6.5 minute music and lights show where guests will see “all the colors of the rainbow,” according to Freeman. Pekron said, “Our entire family was wowed by the dancing tree, from my husband and me, to our teenagers, all the way down to our six-week old great-niece.”
The lights are strung over approximately one mile of trails that lead visitors through a small portion of the 210-acre Garden. Freeman advises visitors to plan for the stroll to take an hour to an hour and a half. Guests can also take a guided golf-cart tour through the show for $15 per cart.
Visitors are also treated to free hot chocolate and can purchase hot soups and other food at a café onsite. Beam said that she likes to get to the show before dark, so she can get a parking spot without having to wait in line. She expanded, “You can enjoy a nice walk to see the new tree house [in another area of the Garden] and grab something to eat from the little outdoor café. The best part is going back through after you’ve eaten, and the sun is setting over the lake. It’s dusk and the holiday lights are beginning to really glow.”
Freeman also advised coming to the display before dark, especially on Saturdays, because the parking areas do fill up, and a line forms on Saturday night. The Garden does stay open until the last visitor has finished enjoying the show, as long as that person was in line by 9 p.m.
As Freeman pointed out, “The Holiday Lights Show is an incredible way to see the garden in a new light.” However, even if guests miss the lights, Garvan Woodland Gardens is a worthwhile destination any time of year.
Garvan Woodland Gardens is a division of the Fay Jones School of Architecture + Design of the University of Arkansas that opened in 2002. It is closed in January, on Thanksgiving Day and on Christmas Day, but is open every other day throughout the year.
Guests can see ponds, flowers, trees, bushes and other man-made structures spread across 210 acres. Anyone interested in specific flowers can check the Gardens’s website (www.garvangardens.org) for a bloom calendar and information about other special events. Although dogs are not allowed at the Holiday Lights Show, they are welcome in the Gardens during the rest of the year.
Pekron and Beam both have memberships to the Gardens and enjoy the property year-round. Beam said, “I have a membership to enjoy the seas of colorful spring bulbs. I really go to get exercise as well – it’s a great and easy hike through the woods and a good way to connect with nature because it is meditative and beautiful.”
Garvan Woodland Gardens opened a treehouse in the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden earlier this year, designed to teach children about nature. Pekron said her children love this new feature, and also enjoy taking their swimsuits and playing in the waterfall and wading pool each summer. She continued, “The Gardens offer something for everyone and I would highly recommend visiting most any time of year. They are wonderful for a nice stroll for all ages through the flowers and plants.” Pekron also noted that Garvan Woodland Gardens offers a fantastic backdrop for family photos, with many backdrops in a concentrated area.
The Holiday Lights Show opened on Nov. 17 and goes through Dec. 31, from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. every day. Christmas Day is the only day it will be dark. Tickets are free for Garvan Woodland Gardens members, $15 for adults and $5 for children.
Garvan Woodland Gardens is located at 550 Arkridge Road in Hot Springs National Park.
This holiday season, celebrate with family and friends by touring the Holiday Lights Show at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs. With over 4.5 million lights, there are displays to dazzle everyone in your party. (Photo courtesy of Garvan Woodland Gardens)