Saturday, 17 December 2016

Lighting up your life!

Hart tounge Fern with bubbles - Woburn Abbey 2015
Its that time of year when a lot of the open gardens are putting on displays to draw the crowds after dark, winter wonderlands are springing up like santa has nothing better to do with his time. I'll admit I actually am a fan, a garden at night is a completely different animal to the one we are used to viewing in the day. It takes on a magical, ethereal quality. It could, if done sensitively, actually make you believe faeries do frollick at the bottom of the garden!

Last year I was lucky enough to go along to Woburn Abbeys Lumiere event. It was a bit of a que to get in and afterwards I heard a number of complaints about this but lets face it the event itself was absolutely faultless. The food put on and the exhibits, lighting etc were beautiful! The staff themselves were incredibly helpful & cheerful in the face of somewhat adverse conditions. Maybe I am in the minority in that I was in good company and sitting for a while, chatting in a nice warm car wasnt a hardship, anyway! Once we had arrived we had a wonderful experience!

Ice sculpture - Woburn Abbey 2015
Sadly, not everyone did and as far as I know they haven't repeated the event this year, they were good enough to offer people a full refund but I do wonder what exactly people were expecting to see?

There are a few other events of a similar nature, which whilst magical at night are somewhat lacking when viewed in the cold stark light of day. Its a one thing for a garden to have a full size Cinderella & carraige plonked on the grass and pull it off in style at night but during the day you could find yourself thinking its a bit garish & gauche.... it totally is!

Chinese New Year -  Chiswick House 2016

How about some weird alien underwater jellyfish things? I bet at night they look amazing... but during the day? Have you ever seen an abandoned plastic bag floating down the river? Yeah, its a lot like that.
Chinese New Year -  Chiswick House 2016

Even the "big gardens" dont always get it right when it comes to daylight viewing of these attractions im sad to say. Although in their defence I dont think its an easy task.
Kew Gardens in daylight - 2015

Kew Gardens in daylight - 2015
Im not sure how I feel about these events when I view them like this, logically I understand why public gardens would host events such as these in winter months. After autumns display of leaves have fallen most people would assume there's little to see, visitor attendance drops. Economically it makes sense to utilise the space.
When viewed at night though these spaces come alive and that is the point!

Visually speaking, due to the nature of this subject, this blog is heavy on the pictures...

Across the lake - Secret Garden Party 2016

In the woods - Secret Garden Party 2016
So, with this in mind, I set off last Saturday to Kew Gardens. Camera in hand, wishing I'd brought an umberella, I picked up my ticket and entered the gardens. I've been practicing taking long exposure pictures since last year's visit to Woburn. I had found that although some of my pics had looked ok when viewed on the cameras tiny screen when viewed large on the computer I'd obviously moved the camera whilst taking the shot creating a shaky blur that frankly ruined the pic.
I hope you enjoy my latest attempts!
You can still book some tickets online (I think?) but if you're determined to go and can't find tickets online you can turn up on spec, they hold a few tickets back on the gate but it is a risk.


The trail starts with with the giant "trees" pictured above, to your left the buildings and trees are beautifully lit, to your right glimpsed through the trees the Palmhouse is lit up like a disco ball. The smell of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts is carried on the breeze luring you on into the garden. Lights flicker in the distance and excited children waving lightsabers and oscillating light fans are herded aong darkened walkways by parents & grandparents. A festive atmosphere abounds!


I seem to be in the minority as I get my camera out and try to find the best angles for the shots I want to take but then I'm used to that.


So far I haven't seen anything that in daylight might make me shudder, my lack of a tripod is somewhat lamentable though.
At least I thought...
Until I reached this...
 The heart shaped glitter ball, which although at night looks pretty cool does make me wonder how cool it'll look in daylight?

The light tunnel, which very popular amongst visitors for photo opportunities, may not have the same impact when viewed in daylight.
I'll admit though it did look amazing with its flowing, pulsating display.
Next stop was an outdoor disco complete with santas elf DJ, the kids were loving the christmas themed playlist... I moved swiftly past as  "So here it is merry christmas!" came blasting from the turntables...






Even the fact i was continually having to dry off my cameras lens, as you can see in the pic above, hadnt dampened my spirits entirely but at the halfway point I had found my spirits flagging slightly. The stalls selling christmassy themed beverages and snacks so far had only taken cash & like the queen *snorts* I dont tend to carry much. I've got way too used to everywhere accepting card payments! Bad planning on my part and as everything seemed to be priced at a fiver or above I was concious of my limited budget.
It was at this point I hit the Funfair portion of the trail.


Thankfully, for me, I found a catering point selling cinnamon sugared donuts covered in hot chocolate sauce and spiced apple drinks where i could for a reasonable price add a shot of rum. Suddenly I felt a lot more cheery at the prospect of another hour in the rain!
And so I tried to find the start of the second part of the trail...
I wandered round the funfair twice seeing no obvious exit other than the entrance, maybe it was just me being daft but as things had been set out in a linear fashion I had expected that to continue? Eventually I opted for leaving via a not entirely legitimate exit, I do love escaping out of a backdoor, I just couldn't face slogging my way through the crowds of people who all seemed to be moving in the opposite direction to me again!
I found myself on a completely deserted darkened path which for me was a glorious relief!
No people shoving and jostling, I took a moment to just savour the aloneness and relative quiet before heading back into the fray...
I rejoined the throngs and realised that the rain had taken a short break, I was now heading towards the Hive, which I still haven't seen in daylight.



Viewed at night with people clustered underneath its hard to realise the scale of it or to hear the constant humming noise it emits but this structure is massive. Its something that I think I would prefer to see in daylight whilst in a less crowded atmosphere. I managed to get a pic of the centre looking upwards, its times like this im reminded exactly how short I am as people elbows and backpacks tend to be about my face level providing an exciting opportunity for me to play "Lets avoid a black eye!"
Once again heading off piste, I hopped over the seating area to escape the crowds and saw the another Glasshouse in the distance, having totally lost my bearings in this darkened version of the familiar Kew I couldn't tell if it was the Princess of Wales Conservatory house or the Palmhouse? On reflection I'm going to say PofW Conservatory.
Having finished my Apple rum, delicious, I found more beautifully lit trees. I think this is without doubt my favourite part of the trail. The decorations and installations are great but personally theres a part of my mind always judging how its going to look in the cold light of day.



One of the bits I liked the most, not that strangely given my obsession with Wisterias, was the illuminated arbour covered in the now naked tendrils and convuluted vines of the Wisterias. It created a somewhat nightmarish visage which totally appealed to my surrealist dark side.

Maybe not very festive? But certainly attractive to my mind.
This led onto an opportunity to roast marshmellows... If youd come as a family group I can see how this would end up being an expensive trip out as this area was logjammed with pushchairs & small children clamouring at their parents for the chance to turn sugary delights into a gooey dripping mess. I'll say this for Kew, they know how to cater to families!... I got out quick sharp!

Another installation, this time festive candles!
By this time I was cold, wet, peopled out... not the fault of Kew. More that I was still getting over a nasty cold, so i scurried past a christmassy type play thing laid on for the kids and found another quiet spot ...





At this point I was beginning to wonder when I would reach the Palmhouse which I'd seen at the start? I was positive I had to be close as I'd been walking for close on 2 hrs now!
Seriously
2 Hours...
At that moment I emerged onto a spectacular sight!
Now please forgive my indulgence here but I got a bit excited by the photo opportunities here...

















So despite my dislike of crowded places, being cold & wet, I did enjoy Kews festive light display and would highly recommend it to you all. Wrap up warm, take plenty of cash and take your time. Its a wonderful way to spend an evening with family or friends... or your camera ;)