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Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation rescues annual holiday light show

Florida Botanical Gardens will be all decked out in a blanket of glittering holiday lights that showcase the beauty of the gardens’ plants and landscapes Saturday through Jan. 4. The gardens will include Florida images such as glittering tropical fruit and birds, bumblebees, dragonflies and garden lizards.

Special to the Times

Florida Botanical Gardens will be all decked out in a blanket of glittering holiday lights that showcase the beauty of the gardens’ plants and landscapes Saturday through Jan. 4. The gardens will include Florida images such as glittering tropical fruit and birds, bumblebees, dragonflies and garden lizards.

For nearly a decade, the Florida Botanical Gardens have lit up the night sky with botanically themed lights strung on plant life and throughout garden vignettes.

But as the economy flickered, the county came close to pulling the plug.

That's when the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation stepped in with a $25,000 contribution.

"We're so fortunate that they were able to do this or the holiday lights wouldn't have happened," said Mary Campbell, Pinellas County Extension director.

Faced with reductions in revenue and staff, Campbell said the county just didn't have the money or manpower to string up the 425,000 lights that blanket about 4 acres of gardens.

"We used to start in October, but with the cutbacks in staffing we couldn't do it," Campbell said. "It takes about 600 man-hours."

Enter the foundation.

The nonprofit organization, which has supported the fantasy light displays in years past with musical entertainment and refreshments, came up with the money to pay a contractor to handle the details.

"I think it looks better than ever," Campbell said. "It should really put people in the holiday spirit."

Just don't expect a North Pole village with elves, snowmen and reindeer.

Instead, the gardens will be Florida-proud with glittering tropical fruit and birds, bumblebees, dragonflies, and garden lizards. Holiday music is pumped through speakers strategically located throughout the park.

Everything will be a bit "greener" this year, too, as part of the foundation's donation included the purchase of energy-efficient LED lights to replace nonfunctional incandescent lighting.

The show is free and open every night from 6 to 10 p.m. beginning Saturday and continuing through Jan. 4.

Last year, about 40,000 visitors came to watch the gardens glow.

Vivian Haicken, the foundation's chair, said the money was raised through membership drives, naming opportunities and profits made in the foundation's gift shop.

"We are so happy we can share this magical event with the community," she said. "And it's free — this may be the last year it's free."

If you go

What: "Holiday Garden Lights" is a free illuminated night display.

Where: The Florida Botanical Gardens, 12520 Ulmerton Road, inside Pinewood Cultural Park, Largo.

When: The lights shine every night from 6 to 10 p.m. beginning Saturday and continuing through Jan. 4.

For more information or to help sponsor future light displays: Call (727) 582-2100 or visit www.flbg.org.

Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation rescues annual holiday light show 11/25/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 9:33pm]

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