“Gardens Aglow” is open at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

“Gardens Aglow” is open at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

BOOTHBAY, Maine – When Brent McHale was growing up in central New York, he loved designing Christmas lights for his parents’ house.

“Yes, it was fun and magical,” McHale said. “People pass by the house and say, ‘Oh my God, look at that.’ Now I can do it on a large scale, which is great.”

The huge scale he refers to is the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, where McHale, who graduated from college less than five years ago, first came as a horticultural intern. He was eventually hired full time to help tend the gardens.

However, part of the horticultural staff’s job duties includes working to set up hundreds of thousands of lights for the annual Gardens Aglow event. When the person leading the lighting project stepped down, McHale raised his hand and took charge of the event.

He loves her. He especially loves this year’s show.

“I love it. I think it’s very different and very unique. We have the lighthouse in the back, and that’s kind of our crown jewel this year.”

This lighthouse is approximately 12 feet high and has a metal frame covered in 11,000 lights with alternating bands of red and white to emulate the famous Maine Lighthouse in Lubeck. Although the Aglow Gardens are impressive, McHale said there is much more to the lights than the plants and trees. He added that there are about 300 other man-made sculptures in addition to the lighthouse, including animal shapes and other objects wrapped in colored lights.

“About 66 miles of lights. That’s what we found out. It takes employees up to 11 weeks to achieve that.”

Credit: NCM

Hundreds of blue lights represent the ocean, as part of “Gardens Aglow” at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden.

His boss, Botanical Gardens CEO Gretchen Oster, praised McHale’s work, which will be seen by an estimated 120,000 visitors this season.

“Every year people say it’s the best ever, and I have to say this year is exceptional in so many ways. I love the sight of the ocean lighthouse in the big park and how it connects to this place. The fact that we’re on the ocean — the Coastal Mine Botanical Garden.”

The “ocean” mentioned by Auster consists of strings of blue lights, extending a certain distance from the lighthouse, with the lights forming crests and troughs, resembling waves. Nearby is a stunning, undulating carpet of 25,000 blue and purple lights woven through a mesh draped over plants to enhance the ocean effect.

After the New Year, all the lights will be turned off, and the 12,000 strings will be gradually removed and stored. The sculptures will also be packed away to allow plants to take center stage once again.

And while Brent McHale has several areas of the garden to tend to, the lights are never far from his mind.

“I’m thinking now about next year, how to reimagine it and change it, keep it fresh,” McHale said.

This applies even to his latest creation, The Lighthouse. It appears to be quite settled on a small rise next to the large garden park, but McHale said he won’t be back there next year.

“I have a few ideas about where it could go,” he said with a smile.

The Glowing Gardens at Coastal Mine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay are open to the public Thursday through Sunday from now until New Year’s Day, excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Advance reservations are required, and Botanical Gardens staff advises visitors to make reservations as soon as possible.

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