It’s an especially good time to be at Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens – and for the not-for-profit that operates the century-old, tri-domed Victorian glass house located on the edge of South Park.
Beginning Wednesday, Night Lights at the Gardens – with its trademark multicolored theatrical and interactive lighting, including lasers, enhanced sound and added animation – will soothingly transform the Botanical Gardens for a fourth successive year.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing all the kids again. Last year, we really had an outrageous amount of kids, and they love it,” said Erin Grajek, Botanical Gardens’ marketing director. “We’ve amped up the kid-interactive fun family stuff, because it really is a great place to bring families in this crazy-cold weather.”
Dazzling and ever-changing shards of colorful lights in the main Palm Room were seen during the event’s setup projecting onto yarey, royal and Sliver Bismarckia palms, or dancing along the 67-foot-high dome. A nearby female form – constructed from chicken wire, packing tape and a table cloth – was also manipulated with colorful lasers.
Interactive, colorful lights lent a new way to experience the Fern House and Tropical Rainforest’s 30-foot waterfall, rainbow-lit bridge and dinosaur topiary, adding another contemporary presentation to the Lord & Burnham-designed conservatory. In House 11, the number of red-and-green butterflies that fill up the small space is being doubled to 8,000.
The work is the result of a collaboration between Doug Sittler of Sittler HQ and Steve French of Volt Vision.
The most prominent addition this year – that’s sure to be a hit with kids – is what Francis called “a primitive version of motion capture,” allowing a person’s movements in front of a projection screen to be mimicked by an animated fern and Venus fly trap.
The annual Night Lights at the Gardens is one of the site’s most popular events. Total attendance the past two years has gone above 90,000.
“Last year was spectacular in so many different ways. Just about every event we had exceeded expectations,” said David J. Swarts, the Botanical Gardens’ president and chief executive officer.
The Panama House and outdoor Children’s Garden were redone. A Native Garden was installed, and a gazebo constructed. The children’s education programs also blossomed, with 12,500 participants last year, the most ever, Swarts said.
A horticulture certificate program begun in late 2012 and carried through 2013 helped return the Botanical Gardens to its mission as the region’s “horticulture hub,” he said, with 20 classes averaging more than 30 participants.
Other events in February include “Kids Day at the Gardens” on Feb. 19, and the Orchid Show Feb. 22 and 23.
Despite the intense cold that’s draped the region, Swarts is hopeful the light show in the warm confines of the Botanical Gardens will make it a go-to destination the next three weeks.
“I keep saying that as long as it doesn’t snow heavily, people are going to want to be here because it’s like being in Florida without buying an airline ticket,” Swarts said.
Night Lights at the Gardens will run Wednesday to Saturday evenings until Feb. 15. Hours are 6 to 9 p.m. weekdays, and 6 to 10 p.m. on weekends.
There will also be musical entertainment and fire exhibitions on some nights. For more information, go to www.buffalogardens.com.