As a famed public botanical garden that has served the communities of the San Gabriel Valley and beyond for nearly 70 years, Descanso Gardens is always changing. Each year the leadership team dreams of new ways to showcase the 150-acre space through a different lens, especially through its seasonal events.
Descanso Gardens’ annual “Enchanted Forest of Light,” which runs from Nov. 20, until Sunday, Jan. 8, is a local favorite.
“This will be the sixth year of Enchanted,” said Jennifer Errico, marketing manager at Descanso Gardens. “Our executive director, Juliann Rooke, thought we should have our own light show. She traveled all over the United States looking at everyone’s light shows, and one really stood out to her at the Morton Arboretum, which is near Chicago. … It highlights the beauty of the gardens and what’s special about the gardens, and it’s not necessarily holiday-ish, even though it is a really nice thing to do during the holidays.”
Rooke returned to La Cañada Flintridge inspired by what she had seen and decided to create a show specifically catered to Descanso Gardens that would highlight its oaks, tulips and ancient forest.
In the spring, the Descanso Gardens Guild plants between 30,000 to 40,000 tulip bulbs along their promenade. For Enchanted, the organization installed 3,000 to 4,000 electric tulips that put on a light show during the event called “Flower Power.” Errico described it as a complete revamp from previous years.
“They’re going to be brighter than ever,” she said. “The cool thing about Flower Power is we put these 3,000 tulips out and then a computer person comes in and he or she generates the light show. It’s called pixel mapping. They listen to the music, and they decide whether things are going to flash and what colors are going to happen and the waves. … It’s a full 10-minute show with the tulips, and I think everyone who’s come before and loved them will love them even more this year.”
The garden’s ancient forest, home to redwoods and cycads, will also be illuminated blue and green with installations that look like fireflies twinkling in the undergrowth.
“It’s really beautiful,” Errico described. “You just get an experience like no other. My favorite part is the Oak Grove. I love oak trees … and during Enchanted we have them lit upwards so you can look up at the blues and the greens. And then you are part of the experience, and you can change the light that’s shining up into the oak trees and see all the different colors in the canopy.
“I can say that my family, my whole extended family, we come every year. It’s a tradition for us. My nephews started coming when they were 9, and now they’re 14. We all come, and we have hot chocolate, we wear our blinking jewelry and get our sweaters on and spend a couple hours walking around.”
Errico explained that one of the artist displays found in the garden is a collection of stain glass houses built by contemporary sculptor Tom Fruin in the Rose Garden. They’re made of recycled plastic signs, primarily found around his home in Brooklyn. There is also a collection of sparkling, swirling installations from HYBYCOZO on the Main Lawn.
“People can see the gardens in a different way,” Errico said. “Being here in the evening is always fun.”
On Nov. 19, Descanso Gardens hosted their annual preview party fundraiser for Enchanted, giving visitors a chance to experience the show before it opens to the public.
Along with live entertainment and an open bar, Descano Gardens hosted a food festival on their lawn with a variety of choices from burgers to tacos to a mashed potato bar.
“We always have DJs. … The School for the Performing Arts also comes out and they play music and do special performances throughout the whole exhibition,” Errico said. “It really is a fundraiser, so it means it allows us to plant the real tulips and have our spring flowers, to make sure the gardens look beautiful all year, that our plants stay healthy and that we continue to grow. So we’re very grateful when people come join us.”
Descanso Gardens’ “Enchanted Forest of Light”
WHERE: 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge
WHEN: The event runs through Sunday, Jan. 8.
COST: Ticket prices are $22 to $28 for members and $34 to $40 for nonmembers.