The Gardens After Dark

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By Bruce Watson, Director of Arts and Entertainment

Night Illuminations was added in 1954 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Butchart Gardens and we have been lighting up the Gardens every summer since.

Much has changed since 1954. Culture, tastes, and preferences have changed; concepts of leisure and entertainment have changed; the size of the garden has increased; technology has evolved; and how we approach Night Illuminations has evolved as well. At its heart, the mandate of Night Illuminations is the same as it has always been: to highlight the natural beauty of The Gardens. However, how we do so has roots both in the past and in the present. At one time, the amount of light fixtures used to light the Garden could fit into a single storeroom in the Residence. No longer. Where the aim was once to use a few sources to light a large space, now we use many fixtures to light individual plants and areas. The idea behind this is to entice beautiful scenes to step out from the dark and into the spotlight.

The Lights

Presently, we have over 3000 light fixtures dedicated to Garden lighting, installed and maintained by a small group of technicians from the Arts & Entertainment department. Although lighting technology has changed over the years, it might surprise you to learn that basic garden lighting is much the same. Most of our fixtures are simple, consisting of a basic enclosure, outdoor bulbs, and cables running across the ground to electrical plugs installed throughout the gardens.

The sheer volume of the underground electrical wiring to supply the power is impressive. Some of the wiring is still original, but much has been added over the years to support the expansion of the garden lighting. Of course, we do our best to lay out the surface cables to be as unobtrusive as possible and keep the focus on the flowers. Unlike the early days, we now also utilize low voltage fixtures, which helps to limit the size of both the fixtures and power cables. In general, we continue to use incandescent lighting in garden lighting. In fact, the technological transition to LED lighting has actually led to many challenges.

LED lighting is expensive, and advances in outdoor-rated LED technology have been slow to arrive on the scene. Most crucially, the quality of light isn’t as inviting, often displaying a very cold colour temperature, or to be so bright as to be overwhelming. The exception to this is in our new fountain lighting systems. Both the Ross Fountain and Dragon Fountain are equipped with new programmable, colour changing LED lighting systems. This versatile equipment has been utilized to create striking colours and design beautiful scenes in the waters of each fountain.

The Ambience

Like gardening, the lighting for The Gardens is an artistic endeavor. It’s not uniformly lit like a stadium, but is designed to selectively illuminate and accentuate particular features, highlighting the beauty by surrounding it with areas of shadow. What you see by day is different than what you see at night.

To me, the garden is an underappreciated magical place at night. It’s peaceful. It’s inspirational, dramatic, and more romantic. It becomes a garden within a garden: the same, but not the same. Although the scope and tools of summer lighting may have changed over the years, touring by night is still an evocative and enchanting way to spend time in the beauty of The Butchart Gardens.

Learn more about Night Illuminations here.