LARGO — This holiday season follow the glow in the night sky to Florida Botanical Gardens, where 425,000 lights are in full bloom.
The gardens are beautiful any time of the year, but even more so when blanketed with bulbs and sprouting giant illuminated lizards, dragonflies, pelicans, candy canes and lollipops.
The wedding garden boasts a large Christmas tree as well as some blossoming flora such as the Christmas Ornament Tree, Bridal Bouquet and Queen's Wreath.
The sparkling show begins Saturday and runs nightly through Jan. 3, including Christmas and New Year's Day. Hours are 6 to 10 p.m.
This year, live entertainment is scheduled nightly (other than on the two holidays). Food and Christmas crafts also will be for sale.
And Old St. Nick is scheduled to make eight appearances.
About 50,000 people went through the gardens last holiday season and organizers say they are doing some extra advertising and promotion to get even more foot traffic this year.
"We need to let the public know these gardens do exist right here in the heart of Pinellas County," said Chuck Scaffidi, president of the Florida Botanical Garden Foundation, which is sponsoring the light show. "Many people are unaware of the gardens and this spectacular light display."
Last year, when the county considered pulling the plug on the 30-acre lightscape because of budget cuts, the foundation stepped up and hired a professional contractor to install the displays, make repairs and replace faulty bulbs with eco-friendly LED lights.
The foundation plans to replace about 20 percent of the incandescent bulbs each year with the greener LEDs.
Last year, the foundation spent $28,000, but received only $12,000 in donations.
This year, organizers are asking for a minimum donation of $2 for adults, with children under 12 free.
And as extra enticement, they've enlisted the help of more than 30 community, church and professional groups to provide nightly entertainment.
A variety of dancers will perform ballet, ballroom, jazz, lyrical and line dancing.
Church choirs, the Sweet Adelines, the New Horizons Band from Eckerd College, the Palm Harbor Crystal-Aires, puppeteers and clowns have committed to performances.
Musical groups include bluegrass and Dixieland jazz bands.
"It's been amazing how generous people are with their time and talent. It's a real community effort," said Barbara Goss, one of the organizers.
A large model train exhibition by the Suncoast Model Railroad Club runs Friday and Saturday nights in the county extension building next to the Florida Botanical Gardens Gift Shop.
"This whole event is going to be wonderful, magical," Goss said.
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