While the main fountains and Hillside Gardens are out of commission for plumbing renovation …
… Longwood Gardens offers a new event on Wednesday through Saturday nights, from June through October, called Nightscape. It’s free for members (with reservations), so while we were in the area for a family funeral this past weekend, we relaxed, regrouped, and reoriented ourselves in the evenings (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) by wandering the paths, immersing ourselves “in the sights, sounds, and spectacle of Longwood after dark.”
There are nine or ten “light and sound experiences” scattered across the grounds, including some in the conservatory, some along the flower walk, some by the large lake, and an amazing combination of music and lighting in the topiary garden (which in the daytime is one of the least exciting spots at Longwood for me).
The night-flowering waterlilies, which visitors never see flower in the day, were all lit to focus attention on them, the stars of the show for once.
It’s hard to describe the experience and my nighttime photos do not do it justice at all.
For one thing, aside from the beauty of the garden and the wow-factor of the light and music shows, being part of the large group of strangers walking expectantly around in the dark felt like a magical, heterotopic experience, reminding me of trick-or-treating, or of being part of a spiritual pilgrimage. We walked slowly, in wonderment, chatting with each other, oohing and aahing, some with light sticks around their necks or heads, kids with light-up shoes, babies in strollers, many people in scooters and wheelchairs, all ages, all group configurations, many forms of dress and costume.
Did I mention the Beer Garden? Open at 6pm on Nightscape evenings, the beer garden tent offers four locally brewed beers by Victory Brewing — including Longwood Seasons: Summer Zest, a Saison beer that uses lemons grown in Longwood’s gardens — and the beer garden food cabin offers three of the beers plus a limited menu of pub fare. So besides feeling like Halloween night or a pilgrimage walk, the crowd also felt like an alfresco garden party, as many people strolled with beer drafts in hand.
The gardens, hardscapes, pathways, water bodies, sculptures, and structures are all transformed in the darkness, even those that aren’t affected by the light shows.
(These bathroom pods are great!)
Sand paths, boardwalks, stairs:
The constant buzzing of the cicadas heightened the experience for me; we don’t have cicadas where I live, and to hear their incessant sounds, similar to a synthesizer undulating in pitch and intensity, is intense. (Fascinating section about cicadas’ noise production at Wikipedia).
I do wonder how the light shows and music are affecting the light-drawn insects and other insects, moths, bats, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. I heard many people comment on how disorienting the combination of the darkness, music, and lights were for them; for us, the disorientation felt helpful, more of a re-orientation, a resetting of our daytime, care-worn, rational-mind compasses to something more primitive, instinctual, intuitive — balancing and calming.
Below are photos taken at night and in the day to show the contrast in appearance and mood; but without the music, the crowds (who clapped after most ‘performances’), the cicadas, the scents (especially of the cape jasmine), the experience is incomplete. If you can go, go!
Flower Garden Drive
Legacy Tree and Lighted Path
Flower Garden Walk Entrance
People thought this looked like an eye, a pond with fish, outer space. You can see that in the day, it’s just a hedge.
Unfortunately, my camera is not powerful enough in the very low light to capture the light show over the large lake, with its dragonflies soaring, fish diving and rising, seasons changing from spring through summer and autumn to winter, winds blowing the leaves. You can see a bit of it on Longwood’s Nightscape page.
What you see here is not at all what it looks like in person, but the photos do reveal some sense of the scope, form, and colour.
These are the projectors, with their many fans, cleverly camouflaged during the day:
The lawn next to the lake, with chairs, during the day:
Near the lake were a few other light experiences:
Inside the lakeside gazebo, looking at sky, daytime and nighttime:
There were a few suspended, lit spheres in the main part of the conservatory:
The Palm House
We call this “the jungle room.” It’s a room more vertical than wide, with two or three stories of tropical plants growing, blooming in bright colours, making the room humid and humus-scented. There’s a ramp that winds its way up and around the gardens.
Here’s what it looks like in the daytime:
And here it is at night:
The palm fruits in the day and part of the light show at night:
One of the projectors, dormant in the day:
The Silver Garden
One of the my favourite rooms in daylight as well as during Nightscape.
One section, in the daytime:
Some video of this experience is here.
Another area, day and night:
The changing colours:
Day and night:
As you can perhaps see, the room is narrow; filled with people, motion, sound, light, flashing colour, it is quite an experience.
Again, the low light didn’t allow good photos of the topiary experience, but it’s such a total music-and-light experience that even excellent video could only give a taste. (I did take video but it’s so dark that there’s not much to see, here.)
The one topiary of the 12 involved that I could see in the camera was this one; it looks so benign in the daytime, doesn’t it?:
A few more shots to give a slight sense of it:
“I wanted to move away from a literal story by creating one within the viewer. This is a chance to escape into your imagination and see something unexpected. There is a scene in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams that has tugged at me for years, where a little boy escapes into the woods and sees a parade of foxes. It is a magical moment of uncertainty and amazement. Those are the kinds of moments I wanted to create with Nightscape.” — Ricardo Rivera, Director, Klip Collective
magic, even better than your description