By day inside Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, thousands of red, pink, and white poinsettias, a giant poinsettia tree, and gorgeous winter greenery create a festive holiday scene.
Then, as dusk falls, more than 450,000 twinkly lights, musical light shows, a holiday train display, and brightly lit “animals” like elephants and flamingos make a magical winter wonderland outside on the conservatory grounds.
The day-night double feature has grown into a much-adored extravaganza, and Karin Noecker loves every minute of it.
“I’ve worked here at the conservatory for 18 years, and this is my most favorite time of year,” says Noecker, director of horticulture and exhibitions. “Everything is just so beautiful.”
Starting months before the holidays, the conservatory’s greenhouses are filled with thousands of little poinsettias in all shades of pink, red, and white. They’re nurtured and grown by the staff horticulturists to prepare for their big event — Holiday Blooms.
The daytime holiday horticulture extravaganza inside the conservatory’s halls is a panorama of stunning plant collections, fanciful vignettes, festive blooms, and greenery — and of course, the famous 10-foot poinsettia tree.
“The poinsettia tree is always the centerpiece of the show,” says Noecker. “It’s a yearly tradition for many families to come and take their holiday photos in front of it. People just love it.”
Visitors also can enjoy the sweet tradition of the annual gingerbread house display and competition, which attracts upward of 50 entries. This year’s theme is “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays”; anyone can enter, and visitors vote on their favorites.
The nighttime exhibit has grown over the last several years and now features 13 acres of outdoor lighting. “That’s a pretty good footprint,” Noecker says. “Yet, it still feels intimate and is very doable for families.”
Visitors are welcomed with a 30-foot tunnel of lights that leads to an enchanting landscape filled with magical, brightly lit vignettes and musical light shows. The conservatory’s lighting partner, Ahlum and Arbor Tree Preservation, creates the fanciful scenes and choreographs the light shows.
“As a special treat, this year, our topiary animals are reimagined with lights,” Noecker says. “So, you may see flamingos, elephants, and even fish in the creek all lit up.”
The iconic Paul Busse Garden Railway is dressed up for the season, too, with glowing lights illuminating the tracks and engine. Roaming performers, musicians, ice carvers, and food trucks add to the festivities, and the Botanica Gift Shop and Greenhouse is open for gift shopping.
Holiday Blooms (9 a.m.–4 p.m.) and Conservatory Aglow (5–9 p.m.) are open every day from Nov. 20 to Jan. 9, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas days. For details and ticket information, visit www.fpconservatory.org.
All photos included in this story were taken by Rebecca Seum.