Third Annual Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Garden

One million lights. It’s a number that’s practically unimaginable until you see it for yourself – but that’s exactly what visitors of the third-annual Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Garden experience. And the display is all the more dazzling this season, expanded from last year’s 600,000 lights.

Bigger and better than ever, visitors and guests can light up their holidays by taking a stroll through the 30 light displays and installations with their families, friends and significant others, which kicked off Nov. 21 and runs until Jan 2.

Since launching in 2012, Garden Glow has quickly become a holiday-season favorite for families across the St. Louis area. Its spokesperson, Katie O’Sullivan, says the Garden has steadily added about 400,000 lights each year to hit the one million mark. In its first year, there were 18 installations; this year, that number has climbed to 30. All of the lights featured in the Garden Glow are LEDs and use only a fraction of the energy needed to illuminate regular strands of holiday lights.

“We’ve really expanded our footprint and the undertaking,” she says. “We begin work on some of the installations as early as summer, pretty much as soon as the Lantern Festival is taken down.” This year, the Lantern Festival wrapped up in late August, giving the staff about 13 weeks to illuminate the gardens.

So how do the installations come to life? The Garden partners with two companies that specialize in bringing large-scale events to life to conceptualize the installations, and the Garden’s staff carries it out from there. O’Sullivan says the biggest installations are probably the maze and the Climatron, which is renamed the Illumitron during the Garden Glow for the blanket of 22,800 white lights that enrobe its exterior.

The Garden’s event staff and crews are the ones who carry out the installation of the displays. There are about 30 people who work to make sure all the lights are put up and working correctly, O’Sullivan says. She adds that the most hectic part of getting the Garden Glow together is making sure all the electrical components come together, coordinate and, of course, light up.

“People who have come the past two years have really been able to see all the expansions,” O’Sullivan says. “We had about 100,000 people both of the first two years. We’re hoping for more this year.”

Visitors can expect a few changes: The Garden has reversed the route through the Garden Glow to better move people through the displays and to ensure photographs taken in the snow globe are done at the beginning of the route, rather than the end. They’ve also done away with wristbands and will instead be checking time-marked tickets at the door so people are moved through in a more orderly fashion without bottlenecking certain installations.

“We don’t want to push people out of the Garden, obviously, but that staggered entry time has really helped us,” O’Sullivan says. “It makes it a better experience for everyone involved.”

Now, she says, all they can do is hope for continued good weather so visitors can enjoy the Garden Glow to its full potential.

“It’s hard to keep everything lit in the rain and ice,” she says. “We’re glad people are still interested in our third year. We want to continue to expand in the next couple of years.”

As in years past, guests of the Garden Glow can enjoy countless photo opportunities, holiday music and food and drink. The interior of the Tower Grove House will be adorned in Victorian-era holiday décor, which is done by the Garden’s education division and volunteers. Visitors will have the opportunity to pose in oversize picture frames, enjoy hot cocoa and s’mores, and listen to Christmas music.

Missouri Botanical Garden’s Garden Glow, through Jan. 2, prices and times vary, 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, 314-577-5100,

Garden Glow by the numbers:

1,000,000 -- Total number of lights featured in this year’s Garden Glow

97,000 -- Number of lights used on the Labyrinth of Light

45,000 – Number of lights on the Central Axis hedges

25,000 – Number of lights wrapped around the Golden Glow area

22,800 – Number of white lights on the Illumitron

15,800 – Number of lights wrapped around the Brillance tree (1½ miles)

63 – Number of days it took to install all of the lights around the Garden

32 – Number of nights the Garden Glow will be open to the public

30 – Number of installations throughout the exhibit

15 -- Number of unique color combinations

4 -- Number of amps needed to power the LED lights on the Illumitron (the same amount of power needed to light four 100-watt light bulbs)

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