Culture / Entertainment

No Ordinary Holiday Show — Lightscape Transforms Houston Botanic Garden Into a Truly Magical Realm

When the Season Gets Arty

BY // 12.06.21

When it opened 15 months ago, Houston Botanic Garden signaled the nation’s fourth largest city’s commitment to greenspaces in the decades to come. As such, the 132-acre oasis of biodiversity —which transformed the grounds of the former Glenbrook Park Golf Course — represents the first of three visionary projects to unfold since 2020 (the others being The Ion and POST Houston, both which were completed this fall). 

In the case of Houston Botanic Garden, phase one wrapped what is an ongoing, ambitious, multi-million-dollar 30-year plan. This expansive and inspiring garden offers a paean to nature, one incredibly 20 years in the making. Its nonprofit was originally formed in 2002.

Within a quick drive of downtown, near Hobby Airport and easily accessed by the Park Place Boulevard exit off of I-45, the beautiful verdant space is still a bit of a secret, partly because its opening coincided with COVID-19 pandemic times.

So the idea to present the phenomenon of Lightscape at the Botanic Garden this holidays was inspired. It promises to bring attention and increased audiences to this beautiful garden. Claudia Gee Vassar, the face of the Houston Botanic Garden as its president and general counsel, says of the decision: “Lightscape serves as a way to introduce the garden to those who haven’t previously experienced it yet, while showing it off in a whole new light to those who have visited during daylight previously.” 

And after touring the garden and taking in Lightscape — under a full moon, no less — this reporter can say Gee Vassar’s goal has been enchantingly realized. 

Enchantment is the calling card of Lightscape, now on view at Houston Botanic Garden. (Photo by CDA)
Enchantment is the calling card of Lightscape, now on view at Houston Botanic Garden. (Photo by CDA)

A Kingdom of Plants Illuminated 

While I don’t want to give away all the surprises of this extraordinary wonderland, be prepared to slow down and leisurely stroll throughout a mile-long, gently rolling path. I took on my Lightscape adventure with a media colleague, an attorney/elected official who sits on a Court of Appeals bench and a powerful art gallerist. All of us were equally enthralled. Music is part of Lightscape, but in a subtle way.

This is no Disney-like adventure, but one in which nature and artistically created installations come together in harmony. 

Artists from the United Kingdom to the United States have been commissioned to create a series of installations, which activate the garden’s nocturnal landscape. Among the signature of these are “Geo Forest,” “Constellations,” “Winter Cathedral” (the most Instagrammable, employing 100,ooo lights), “Fire Garden” (Houston pyrotechnical artists were tapped to realize this poignant piece), “Jigantics,” “Neon Tree,” “Starfield,” “Neon Strings,” “Triangulate” and “Winter Wonder Tree.” The latter, created by Houston duo Moon Papas (collaborators Julian Luna and Matt Fries), serves as a fitting finale and will travel to future Lightscape editions.

Elaine Dillard and Jonathan Beitler, both Orange Show Gala and Art Car Parade veterans, were brought in to co-produce Lightscape for its Houston debut at the botanic garden.

“Having Moon Papas as our first Houston artist gives me joy,” Dillard tells PaperCity. “They are an Art Car artist, and now the piece they created will travel around the nation, bringing their gorgeous 35-foot tree to other cities for Lightscape visitors to experience.”

A full mile of shimmering light installations will beguile visitors to Lightscape in Houston Botanic Garden this holiday season.

Produced by global entity Sony Music, along with United Kingdom-based Culture Creative and the U.S.-head-quartered WAD Entertainment, Lightscape and its sister event, Light Trails across the pond, have been phenomenons. Particularly in Europe, where venues have encompassed such distinguished, historic locales as Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire; Kew Gardens, London; and Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Stateside, Lightscape is concurrently unfolding at the Chicago Botanic Garden (in its third season) and the San Antonio Botanic Garden, both often to sold-out crowds.

The good news is Lightscape at Houston Botanic Garden is not crowded and prime ticket spots ($23 to $25 for adults, $16 to $18 for children, depending on which day you go) remain. You can find more details, book tickets and parking info here

Refreshments and adult libations are available for purchase, including a s’mores station situated by the “Fire Garden.”

Lightscape at Houston Botanic Garden, 1 Botanic Lane at 8210 Park Place Boulevard, is open nightly through Sunday, January 2.

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