You could find Christmas any time of the year at the N.C. Arboretum: The state facility in Asheville holds appropriate trees – white pine, Fraser fir, Leyland cypress, juniper, spruce and blue spruce. Among the 100 dinky specimens in its bonsai collection are limber pine, hornbeam and Eastern white pine. (There are larger versions of these, some native to the Blue Ridge region, in the Arboretum’s Carolina Mountain Trail.)
And there are hollies, too. The Cliff & Betty Dickinson Holly Garden showcases different varieties of the trees and shrubs known for bright red berries.
There’s more, of course. The 434-acre public arboretum, minutes from downtown Asheville, is all about botany – education, economic development, research, conservation and public awareness. It includes six gardens, plant collections and trails.
And for the second year ever, it is staging an evening holiday illumination: Through Jan. 2, the nationally known facility is sporting a 3-acre “Winter Lights” walking tour through its main gardens.
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Energy sustainability and its benefits come into play. The Winter Lights design team has created a show almost entirely composed of energy-efficient LED lights, and estimates that they reduces the energy required by 80 percent.
Overseeing the design of the 12 displays is a former designer and manager of holiday decorations for Walt Disney World. New this second year: an animated 50-foot tree placed over the Arboretum’s Johnston Pool, which will display a programmed light show every 30 minutes.
The tour features nightly holiday music by area school groups and choirs. You can also see an exhibit of G-Scale model trains. (G-Scale is the indoor/outdoor size and style popular with botanical conservatories and backyard railroaders.) This is a two-track outdoor display with trains modeled on those used in Western North Carolina in the 1900s.
The Savory Thyme Cafe will sell buffet dinners – reservations strongly recommended – with items ranging from chili ($5 a bowl), to crispy mustard roasted chicken breast with green beans ($12). Holiday gifts/souvenirs are for sale in the Baker Exhibit Center Connections Gallery and in the Moonlight Market in the education center.
John Bordsen: 704-358-5251
Want to go?
The N.C. Arboretum, 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, stages “Winter Lights” 6-10 p.m. daily through Jan. 2. Admission: $18; $16 for ages 5-11; free for 4 and younger.
From Charlotte, the facility is just over a two-hour drive. Take I-85 South to the Kings Mountain/Shelby exit; follow U.S. 74 Bypass West to I-26 West (near Columbus); I-26 West to Asheville area, Exit 33. Turn right onto N.C. 191 South. Pass Asheville Outlets and look for brown signs for the N.C. Arboretum. Turn right at the light; the arboretum's main entrance is ahead on the right.