Brookgreen lights up nights beyond 1,000 ways

spalisin@thesunnews.comDecember 8, 2013 

  • If you go

    What | Annual “Nights of a Thousand Candles”

    When | 3-10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Dec. 21 in gardens only, not Lowcountry Zoo

    Where | Brookgreen Gardens, on U.S. 17 between Murrells Inlet and Litchfield Beach, across from Huntington Beach State Park

    How much | Tickets available at, in admission plaza, Lowcountry Information Center, and at 235-6016. $16 ages 13 and older, $8 ages 4-12, and free ages 3 and younger. Also, group rates available.

    Information | 235-6000, 800-849-1931 or

    Scheduled entertainment |

    Dec. 12-14 – Lissakeole (Irish music band), Paul Grimshaw Band, Thistledown Tinkers, Miller-Rowe Consort, Peggy Leonard, Class Brass (quartet), and Timmy and Susana Abell (original children’ songs, puppet shows)

    Dec. 19-21 – Bates Holmand & Friends (jazz; Dec. 19 and 21 only), Barbara Bailey Hutchison (singer/songwriter), Bill Oberst (solo rendition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”), Bella Corda (guitar octet), Carolina Master Chorale, Palmetto Bronze Handbells, and Miller-Rowe Consort

    Also |

    Gardens open 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (but not during days with “Nights of a Thousand Candles”) – regular admission, which lasts seven days: $14 ages 13-64, $12 ages 65 and older, and $7 ages 4-12.

    Exhibits “Batteries Not Included: Christmas Trees, Trains, and Toys” and “Signs of the Season in Flora and Fauna,” through Jan. 1 – free with admission.

    New Year’s Eve “Garden by Candlelight” Pre-Party, 6-9 p.m. Dec. 31 in sculpture garden with strolling musicians, hand-lit candles, and holiday lights, for $20 (Brookgreen members $15).

Falling between Hanukkah – the Festival of Lights – and Christmas, Brookgreen Gardens will burn many candles for two more weekends.

Brookgreen’s annual “Nights of a Thousand Candles” for 2014 was expanded by two more days, for three full weekends – 3-10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays – through Dec. 21. The festival got off to a warm start this past Thursday on a sultry, spring-like night as crickets chirped across the area under a crescent moon.

Helen Benso, the gardens’ vice president of marketing, and Sara Millar, vice president of horticulture and conservation, shared some extra insight into this illuminating extravaganza. Benso also said installation begins in October and that staff and volunteers come up with new ideas every year.

Question | What is the approximate number of candles used in this annual tradition of an event, and how long is the process to light them nightly?

Benso | More than 5,500 candles take about an hour to light.

Q. | In preparing the gallery for three weekends of “Nights of a Thousand Candles,” how much earlier in the fall – or summer, spring, or even last winter – were the minds of Brookgreen crews hopping in creativity for ways to use plants and various natural materials to be innovative with “living art”?

Millar | The creative juices for the gallery design are constantly flowing. Each time we see a unique plant, crafty design, or interesting use of flowers, plants and other natural materials, we consider how it could be utilized in the gallery. Every year, we have a surplus of ideas, and because only so much can be displayed in the gallery at one time, we have a reserve of ideas to use in future exhibits.

We also take ideas that worked well one year and either embellish upon it or make some changes to make it fresh. We visit other gardens and peruse horticulture publications, craft magazines and plant catalogs for inspiration on creating our own original works of art. We have a very talented group of staff and volunteers, all who have great energy and passion. They are always contributing new ideas and showcasing their individual creativity.

Q. | Does designing this layout for every December become a new horticultural playground per se, built from scratch – a gift for visitors and a gift for Brookgreen crews to lay out?

Benso | Every year, it is a gift we give to the community to see the gardens in a different light. It is labor intensive, but a labor given freely.

Q. | In what easy ways might guests be inspired to take home and razzle dazzle up their own home décor for the rest of the month, or even to keep in mind for next year?

Millar | We have many small themed trees and wreaths on exhibit in the gallery. These are ideas that make for fun and easy projects guests can do at home to decorate for the holiday season. Small tree frames are created using chicken wire, which are then filled with sphagnum moss to hold moisture and provide a rooting medium for plants. Finally, using wire, the plants are attached; succulents, air plants and small house plants are easy to find and use.

Unique wreaths are simple to create as well. Basic grape vine or birch wreaths can be purchased at a craft store, and then virtually anything can then be added to liven it up. Materials include fresh and dried flowers, twigs, branches, feathers, sea shells, pine cones and seed pods.

The theme of our gallery is using plants and natural materials in unique ways to create “living art.” Take a stroll through your yard, local garden center and craft store to find interesting material and ways to incorporate the natural world into your festive home décor.

Q. | Besides poinsettias, what are some obvious, other means to use greenery and yuletide color to liven up a living room or exterior of a home?

Millar | We always grow hundreds of poinsettias for use in our gallery because they are the beautiful iconic holiday plant. We also use hundreds of other types of plants to create an unusual, diverse display. Tropical plants are our favorite to use because of their bold foliage that comes in every hue imaginable.

We created several large themed trees using an array of color pallets. Topical plants mix well with poinsettias, which are also topical. Some of our favorites include aglaonema, croton, dieffenbachia, alocasia, anthurium, calathea and maranta. All of these genera of tropical plants come in a wide assortment of colors and are easy to find.

Bromeliads are another group of tropical plants that are perfect for use during the holidays. After the holidays, these plants make great house plants and can be planted in shady gardens when temperatures warm up for the summer.

Q. | What do Brookgreen crews hope for in the elements for “Nights of a Thousand Candles” every year? Some nip in the air, which might fit naturally with the all the music and entertainment, but not too cold?

Benso | Every year, we want our guests to have the best experience possible, so we add outdoor heaters, arrange the entertainment so the traffic flows easily, and we hope we have no rain – it’s the only thing we can’t compensate for. Hard to keep candles lit when it rains, even though the lights are still beautiful.

Contact STEVE PALISIN at 444-1764.

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