A GROWING CONCERN: Light the night

I’VE BEEN BUSY lately buying 88,000 lights for decorating the portable ice skating rink being set up in downtown Port Angeles.

So this week I want to emphasize the importance and vitality of holiday light displays.

My Mayflower Horticulture staff and I actually call them light sculptures, which more appropriately describes their essence and value.

You take your backyard evergreen shrub, strand 8 strings of tiny white lights into and around it, then at night when it begins to darken, you switch the lights on and the yard becomes alive with sparkling sculptures.

As a devoted horticulturist, I see holiday lights as an intrinsic part of a year-round ornamental program.

Lights give you the ability to do extremely creative work in a genre not normally available in the traditional landscape setting.

That is why it is art.

And that is the essence of what I want to describe to you today.

The reason the world’s best light displays are found at botanical gardens is because they incorporate everything that is fine landscaping.

A creative design will use the building, the setting, viewpoints and the available hardscape as a foundation (canvas) for the light creation.

The colors, flow, depth and height of light sculptures will all combine to create one setting.

This is what makes gardening so fun — the challenge of using one’s own concepts in various ways to bring out a vision for an area.

With lights, you can achieve things not done or easily achieved with living plants.

And that leads to the challenge that I have for you: Regardless of whether it is your home, church, business or friend’s residence — be creative.

Precisely at the darkest time of the year, let’s illuminate the North Olympic Peninsula with our creative passion.

Each one of us possesses a distinct personality, along with your own individual property (we’re counting rentals too).

I want you to use your imagination and light it up, but you’ll get a free lesson in person, just a bit further in this article.

Who cares that the garden will be frozen and the bulbs are planted?

There is no time to sit on your laurels like everyone else, just waiting for spring’s arrival.

Get your artist’s hat on and figure out how to deck your place out in an expression of yourself.

Maybe it is just one tree, each branch in a separate color with the birdbath trimmed in lights, blue water and all.

Maybe it is a windmill trimmed out, or just a spectacular arrangement of colors across the yard.

Just try to find the inner light artist in you.

Here are a couple of tricks that can help.

• Buy lights by the thousands.

This is much easier if you’re only putting three or four strands on a tree, it takes a lot of time to get the spacing just so.

With 10 or 12 strands, you can just whip them up into the branches, because the spacing becomes irrelevant with so many lights.

You’ll get everything covered. Size does matter.

• Staplers and zip ties are wonderful for this use.

Easy up, easy down, and held right in place with a twist; these items hold your designs together.

Determine your method of hanging the display so that it is fun and easy when the actual stringing occurs.

• Prepare the lights first.

This is so crucial to enjoy the process and have fun.

In the dry warmth of your house, remove the lights from the box, unwrap them, de-knot them, and remove the spare bulb package.

Instead of putting these label-free wraps back into the box again, place the strands in easy-to-grab Rubbermaid containers so when you are creating your masterpiece, the strands flow to you smoothly and easily, all ready to install.

• Get big, beefy, heavy duty extension cords, rated for exterior/outdoor use.

I do not want this to be performance art that ends up as a huge burning flame, symbolizing the Yule log.

The smaller the gauge number on the cord, the better: 12, 14, 16 gauges are acceptable. Get the cords with multiple sockets on the end.

Use as many different breaker (circuits) as possible.

Electricity is always the limiting factor. It is not the number of sockets that matters, it is the number of separate circuits you connect to, such as from the garage, the front door, the rear door, and the shed’s circuit.

Have your extension cords come from windows if you need to, in different rooms spreading the power around to different breakers from within your main electrical panel or subpanel.

• Have fun.

This is an extension of gardening and it is artistic — be in that frame of mind.

My ultimate goal is really quite simple: When people are at Butchart Gardens’ one million-plus light display in Victoria, I want them to look south and see a holiday glow from Port Angeles and think to themselves, “Butchart is really nice, but let’s not forget to see what is going on over in the States.”

Having turned your clocks back an hour this morning, nightfall will come earlier and to help brighten your doorstep and extend your outdoors further, having another light display in the garden is just what the doctor ordered.

A light request

Every week for more than 20 years I have given out free gardening advice, and I love it.

Only once have I asked something from you, my readers, and that was to help at the Port Angeles Super Playground near Civic Field. Well here I go again.

This time you can get a free decorating class and lessons on wrapping holiday lights using the smallest bulbs, complimenting what was described in today’s article — how you can take this lesson and do these in your own backyard.

The Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce is bringing downtown Port Angeles a portable ice skating rink, across from Brown’s Sporting Goods in the sunken parking lot.

Yours truly is the decoration chairperson and I have 88,000 lights to hang, but I need your help.

So this Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., we will be de-packing lights and wrapping two large birch tree clumps, preparing for the Winter Village, which will run from Nov. 23 through Jan. 6.

We’ll meet at the sunken parking lot, 125 Front Street, Port Angeles. We will again need your help Nov. 13 and Nov. 14 as we illuminate the tent and the rest of the “village,” from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on all three dates.

We are volunteering to “light the nights” for this first-time ice skating rink fundraiser for the Chamber of Commerce.

Please, please, please — if you can help, call my home answering machine (360) 417-1639 and volunteer for the Winter Extravaganza. We’ll have a fun time, laughing and learning about light displays, while giving your community a helping hand. I promise, I won’t ask again for another 10 years.

Thank you.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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