By Kay Whatley, Editor
Wow! What amazing sights there are to be seen at “Moonlight in the Garden” with trees accentuated by the moon and multicolored lighting, other growth hiding in the shadows, and an opportunity to eat under the stars and roast marshmallows over an open fire.
Each Fall, the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University lights up their trees as leaves fall and fronds wilt. The result is a spectacular “living” light show that’s a feast for the eyes, coupled with activities and interactive displays.
For seven nights in November, one of which we were fortunate to attend, Moonlight in the Garden entertains visitors with bursts of color and twirling art pieces along paths — and there are many — through the Arboretum. Paths are lighted with Luminaria to help visitors find their way through during this after-dark event, where in each section they can see trees familiar and exotic.
Along the way are photo-friendly spots with backdrops or brighter lights. Interactive carved-wood “ornaments” could be spun to produce intricate shadows over the ground. Each section of the JC Raulston Arboretum was beautiful, or shadowy, or haunting, or lively or…. you get the idea. It’s a sight to behold. We stopped many times to gawk at changing scenes, thanks to color-changing effects.
We were so glad that we were there to take it all in.
Several paths end at a clearing which is set up as a ‘marshmallow garden’ for the seven nights of Moonlight in the Garden. All of the sudden, instead of wandering through the “woods” visitors find themselves at a family-friendly event. This grassy area is well lighted and lined with food trucks surrounding covered eating areas, where visitors may partake of free hot cider and free marshmallows — fire pits for marshmallow toasting dotted the landscape and people kindly made room for one another.
From a covered stage, at least on the night we were there, a guitarist welcomed everyone with folksy songs and acoustic guitar (Andrew Chastain).
Because this is a Fall event and most of the gardens are outdoors, visitors were bundled up! We were there on a rainy Friday evening, and while we did get a bit damp, there were overhanging trees, roof-covered gardens, and tents (with outdoor heaters nearby) under which to stay dry. The Arboretum’s education building was open, too, allowing visitors to step into the warmth whenever they needed it.
The crowd we saw was a mix of couples (all ages), groups, and families including children. Marshmallows were given out freely — no tickets or limits that we saw — and children in winter coats seemed to be having a blast playing in the event area and roasting marshmallows over the fire pits. Adults stood in short lines at the food trucks — Will and Pops, Doherty’s, Napoli, Baozi’s, and Cocoa Forte — or sat at tables under the tents to eat while the live music filled the air.
We’re already talking about coming back next Fall and bringing our adult children and grandchildren.
The “we” I’m referring to would be myself, my sister Kim, and my youngest daughter Nadia. Talking about the event afterward, my sister said that her favorite part was “the marshmallows and many cozy fires to roast them.” She added that she, “liked the set up of the food trucks and tents, and the gardens were beautiful with many hidden places to discover.” (She’s already speaking with her adult kids about scheduling for next year.)
My daughter, 19 years old with a busy life, said “Yes, I would go again.” Her favorite parts were the marshmallows and the “lights on top of the roof” — a second-story deck that not only had amazing rocks-plants-lights displays but allowed visitors to overlook an Arboretum section below.
Below see a sampling of photos in no particular order, as this was not a tour but a free-wandering through the garden and each visitor’s experience was different.
Oh, and this newly-installed Air Bee & Bee wild pollinators habitat is right next to the event area. Just wanted to mention it because it’s new to the Arboretum and interesting.
Plan for “Moonlight in the Garden” to Be A Part of Your 2020 Holiday
JC Raulston Arboretum is located at 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh, NC, between Meredith College and the NC State Fairgrounds. To see Moonlight in the Garden for yourself next year (2020), try to buy tickets early (they sell out by early November), plan to dress warmly, wear comfortable shoes, bring your appetite, and know that parking is mostly along the street.
JC Raulston Arboretum is one of the most diverse botanical gardens in North America, featuring a changing collection of 7,000+ types of plants. The Arboretum’s mission includes plant collection, research, distribution, and education.
Proceeds from Moonlight in the Garden benefit daily operations of JC Raulston Arboretum. Moonlight in the Garden is sponsored by and fund-raising efforts operate under the NC Agricultural Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and lighting is custom designed and installed by Southern Lights of Raleigh, NC.
JC Raulston Arboretum website is jcra.ncsu.edu. Check out their events throughout the year, including photography walks and educational workshops for different age groups.
When sharing your “Moonlight in the Garden” 2019 photos on social media, you can use the Arboretum’s hashtag #jcra.
Additional reporting by Nadia Ethier and Kim Beaver. Arboretum operations/nonprofit details by Robert B. Butler.