Fernwood Botanical Garden revives holiday lights after 13 years

Published 10:01 am Friday, December 3, 2021

NILES — For the first time in 13 years, bright, beaming lights signaling the start of the holiday season could be viewed from the Fernwood Botanical Garden in Niles last Thursday.

“LIGHTS at Fernwood,” a holiday lights event, began Thursday, Nov. 26 and will operate from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays through Sunday, Jan. 2. The event also will offer refreshments and gift shopping.

Elaine Rowland, director of development and external relations, was pleased with the turnout over Thanksgiving weekend.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “It was so nice to hear the positive comments and feedback from visitors. You could feel the excitement from this event being brought back.”

Formerly known as Lights Before Christmas, the event began in 1993 and was an annual tradition in the area before it went on hiatus beginning in 2008. Per FBG, tickets are available online for one-hour entries from 5 to 6 p.m., 6 to 7 p.m., 7 to 8 p.m., and 8 to 9 p.m. at fernwoodbotanical.org/lights. The price is $15 for the general public, with discounted admission for children.

“The only way we’ve been able to do this is community support,” Rowland said. “We’re a nonprofit trying to run 105 acres. The volunteer support has been incredible. We’re happy volunteers could see their work appreciated and admired by not only staff, but the public, too.”

Established in 1964, Fernwood consists of 105 acres of cultivated gardens and natural areas with woodlands, ravines, wetlands, and river frontage on the St. Joseph River. The garden is open year-round for Michiana residents to enjoy.

According to Rowland, Lights Before Christmas went on hiatus due to the physical toll it took on staff as well as the organization’s shift toward its capital project, the Sims Education Center, which opened in 2018. With the SEC fully realized, Fernwood aimed to bring back the lights show with the help of volunteers and sponsors.

“It’s totally different now,” she said. “It used to be too taxing on staff, who did it themselves last time. Now that we’re done with the campaign, we were able to reimagine LIGHTS. The show itself is bigger and better, professionally designed and installed. We’re proud of it.”

As someone who remembers being brought to Lights Before Christmas by her grandparents as a youth, Rowland believes it is those memories that are bringing families back to Fernwood for LIGHTS.

“It’s the nostalgia,” she said. “A lot of the community remembers making memories here and people have been yearning for good memories. It’s outdoors and it’s a safe, fun thing to do in the winter. I think they want to be part of something exciting. It’s a new way to make new traditions in the area.”