How 6 Public Northwest Gardens Dress for Christmas

by Jim McCausland | Photo © Butchart Gardens

Chilly nights, hot cider and trees ablaze with colored lights give you the perfect excuse to get outside this winter. Your destination: any of a half a dozen Northwest botanical gardens. Depending on where you go, you may wind up ice skating, joining in with carolers, sampling mulled wine or shopping for handmade artisan goods. Bring a camera: at dusk, even point-and-shoots can do a remarkable job rendering lights.


Bellevue Botanical Garden puts on Washington state’s best lighted garden show, its interlaced garden paths skirting meadows, plunging through forest and descending into secret glens all awash with color. A half million lights depict everything from palm trees and forest creatures to a blue pool that surrounds a weeping tree transformed into a fountain. Garden D’Lights runs Nov. 30 – Jan. 4 from 5:00 to 10:00 (last entry at 9:30). Park at Wilburton Hill Park at the intersection of 124th Ave NE and Main St.; 12001 Main St., Bellevue; 425/452-2750;


The Oregon Garden builds its light show around five vignettes tucked into its Rediscovery Forest. Take a tram from the visitors’ center and enter the displays through a candy cane light tunnel. While you’re there, shop the German market for clocks, jewelry, pottery and other locally made crafts, and sip some seasonal beer or glühwein (hot mulled wine) as you warm up by a fire pit. Christmas in the Garden runs Fridays through Sundays, Nov. 29 – Dec. 22, from 4:00 to 9:00 at 879 W. Main St., Silverton; 503-874-8100;

Shore Acres State Park illuminates 6 acres with 300,000 LED’s, many outlining 48 elaborate sculptures (you’ll love the life-size whale). If the weather turns drippy, head for the Garden House to recharge with cider, punch and cookies, or grab an umbrella and press on. You can camp at nearby Sunset Bay or stay overnight at The Mill Casino Hotel in North Bend and take a free shuttle to the display. Holiday Lights runs Nov. 28–Dec. 31 from 4:00 to 9:30 at 89039 Cape Arago Hwy, Coos Bay; 541-888-3732;


Idaho Botanical Garden’s 300,000 lights put the emphasis on the bones of this fine garden, right down to trunk, branch, and fruit. Santa shows up weekends, as does the live reindeer Prancer and various choirs and music groups. Warm up at fire barrels, sipping cider or cocoa as you go. Winter Garden aGlow runs Nov. 28 – Jan. 5 from 6:00 to 9:00. 2355 Old Penitentiary Rd., Boise; 208-343-8649;

British Columbia

The Butchart Gardens is easily worth a winter weekend in Victoria. Though the garden’s LEDs do a spectacular job outlining plants and paths, you’ll be equally impressed by the uplights (upward-facing ground lights) that give tree trunks such drama. Start at the ice rink (rent skates or bring your own), then follow the twelve-days-of-Christmas theme through the 55-acre garden, whose trees are decorated with super-sized ornaments. Pass fountains and musicians along the way, eat at The Dining Room and browse Butchart’s gift store for stocking stuffers. Holiday Lights runs Dec. 1 – Jan. 7; gates close at 10:00. Located at 800 Benvenuto Ave., Brentwood Bay; 250-652-4422;

VanDusen Botanical Garden sparkles with more than a million LEDs, but it’s the lakeside dancing lights that really impress. As music sets the tempo, the illumination jumps from shrub to shrub, tree to tree, and hill to hill. Buy hot drinks and snacks at the entrance plaza or a full meal at Shaughnessy Restaurant; and look for Santa any evening before Christmas. The Festival of Lights runs Dec. 11 – Jan. 4 (closed on Christmas) from 4:30 to 9:00. 5251 Oak St., Vancouver; 604-878-9274;