Conservatory shines during this holiday event

Visiting the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a time-honored tradition for many Central Ohio families, particularly at the holidays.

Starting in mid-November, families arrive at the conservatory ready to take their annual photo in front of the iconic Christmas tree, constructed from poinsettias. Many time their visit to the annual holiday exhibition, this year called Gardens Aglow, to coincide with one of the concerts that occur throughout the season. Most spend time admiring the Paul Busse model train on display. “It's a fan favorite,” said Garet Martin, horticulture exhibition designer. “We have to have it every year. Families love it.”

Despite all the rituals associated with holiday visits to the conservatory, organizers still want to infuse the exhibition with fresh experiences, Martin said. This year, in addition to the renaming (the event formerly was Merry & Bright), the most noticeable new element is a mid-century modern theme. The exhibits and their color scheme will have “a retro vibe,” he said.

For example, the 15-foot poinsettia tree that serves as the backdrop for so many photos will be pink. “It's going to be dramatically different from anything we've done before,” Martin said.

Other changes include the addition of more cut trees and more trees featuring the work of the conservatory's glass-shop artists. “We really try to think about how can we honor all of the traditions that we've already started and still introduce new things to keep our various audiences interested,” Martin said.

Gardens Aglow still will include many daytime and evening performances, a gingerbread house competition, craft projects and family activities. The family event schedule includes crafts, cookie decorating, magic shows, animal appearances and performances by school choirs, other music and dance groups and the Muppet Mayhem Band.

Another way to put a new twist on a visit to the conservatory is to explore it at night, Martin said. “I really encourage that,” he said. “At night, the conservatory becomes even more dramatic.”