Over two million lights will illuminate Selby Gardens and its walkways for event's 15th anniversary

Lights in Bloom: 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday; Dec. 26-30; Jan. 1-6; Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 900 Palm Blvd., Sarasota. Admission: $20 for Selby Gardens members; $25 for nonmembers; $7 for children 5-12; free for children younger than 5; Groups of 20 or more: $20 each. Selby VIP Experience is Saturday (one night only). Ticket includes parking, early admission, open bar, buffet and holiday desserts. $125 for adults and $30 for children. Take the trolley: Available 5:30 to 10 p.m. nightly from Sarasota Friendship Center, 1888 Brother Geenen Way . Info: 941-366-5731 or selby.org

Selby Gardens’ popular Lights in Bloom expands to 15 nights this holiday season, as the event marks its 15-year anniversary. 

Last year, nearly 15,000 visitors descended on the grounds during Lights In Bloom’s eight-night run. The family-friendly event returning Thursday features nightly visits with Santa through Sunday, as well as games, face painting and other fun events through Jan. 6.

The 15-acre garden grounds are transformed into a tropical rainforest featuring 95 percent brightly colored energy-efficient LED lights. Walk through the lighted trails to see the Epiphyte Garden’s koi pond surrounded by lighted dragonflies, snowy egrets, frogs and parrots perched in the trees. 

Carolyn Babas of Affairs in the Air and her husband, Phil, have been working on Selby’s elaborate outdoor display for the past six years. Planning and design starts in the summer, with the display growing in scope and size every year. 

New this season are lighted flower displays recycled from the Orchid Ball fundraiser, peacocks and an expanded 80-foot-long caterpillar sensory light tunnel that frames one of the walkways.

“Everybody loves him,” Babas said of the colorful lighted caterpillar display.

In the children’s area, more than 100 of Selby’s signature “Florida reindeer” — flamingos with antlers — are lighted with pink lights, as are their reindeer “babies.” It’s a whimsical Florida winter wonderland on the grounds of the historic bayfront mansion and gardens that offers a spectacular view of downtown Sarasota’s skyline. 

Sarasota’s version of a tropical winter wonderland features 2 million lights, and has been under construction for months. 

Babas, her husband and their helpers were putting the finishing touches on the display during a recent walkthrough and sneak preview prior to the opening tonight. 

“It’s a labor of love,” she said of the nighttime event. “It gets you to the gardens and shows you a different aspect of it.”

Hightlights

Giant, LED lighted butterflies adorn the trees above the butterfly garden. “During the day when it’s warm, there are butterflies all over the place,” Babas said of the flowers planted to attract real butterflies to the grounds. 

A bromeliad tree is lined with live plants and will be illuminated with green lights and visible from Mound Street to beckon visitors to the annual holiday event.

‘Wishing Tree’: This lighted tree by Sarasota Bay has hanging baskets that visitors young and old can fill with their written holiday wishes.

Children’s Rainforest Garden: The center lawn features games like Connect 4, giant Jenga, chess and checkers, as well as arts, crafts, face painting and balloon animals. The area features a canopy walk, 100-year-old banyan tree and a 12-foot waterfall with a forest pool.

Michael’s on East at Selby Gardens offers grilled foods, beer and wine for purchase, as well as hot cocoa to warm holiday revelers on cooler nights.

Live music: Local bands SoulRCoaster and The Hydramatic will perform holiday favorites. 

Peacocks and cacti: New this year are colorful, LED-lighted peacocks and several lighted cactus displays in the desert area.

Lighted pathways: Look up to see snowflakes, dragonflies, icicles and a giant butterfly net hanging in the gardens’ beautiful banyan trees, bromeliads and bamboo plants.

Edible garden: Look for giant lighted pineapples and bananas in the garden.

Visit Santa at the surf shack near the Selby mansion before Dec. 23, when he returns to the North Pole. Santa’s North Pole workshop is crawling with elves. 

Lighted menorah: Also gracing the courtyard is a fully lighted menorah to commemorate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which ended Dec. 10. 

By the numbers

2 million-plus: Number of lights on display

1,000: Approximate number of hours it takes to hang the lights and build displays

11: Number of people it takes to decorate the gardens

700: Number of volunteers participating

300: Number of luminaries placed nightly by Boy Scouts for the first Lights in Bloom

13,000: Approximate number of people who attended last year

 

Information: Marie Selby Gardens staff