Florida Botanical Gardens features dazzling lights, nature, and history this holiday season

In Florida, we don’t have snowflakes and snowmen to remind us that it’s the winter holiday season, but we make up for the sparkly icicles with the twinkle of holiday lights. 

One of the most spectacular destinations in the Tampa Bay Area where you can enjoy a luminous display is the tranquil, lush Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo, which celebrates the season with 1 million LED lights and tastefully adorable figures and arrangements. A plant sale will be featured on December 7.

The Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation puts on the 19th Annual “Holiday Lights in the Garden” event. The Gardens will be open every evening between 5:30 and 9:30 today until Saturday, Jan. 4. Admission is a suggested donation of $5 per person over the age of 13. Kids 12 and under are admitted free with an adult. This year’s celebration kicked off on Nov. 29 with a Hops Night in the Gardens, a craft brew soiree. 

In addition to the million, twinkling, LED lights in a multitude of colors, vibrant laser lights and lighted figures wow guests of all ages. Model trains again surround the Gardens’ 18-foot evergreen tree swathed in heavenly white lights in the center of the Wedding Garden. What’s new this year? A new installer for one, Xmas Lights Install.

“We also have six new large rebar turtles that will be hand-wrapped with lights, replicated from native Florida species,” says Emily Boxam, communications coordinator with the foundation. “They’re pretty amazing.”

Festive flora and fauna

The annual plant sale on Saturday, Dec. 7, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. will feature more than 45 vendors. A wide assortment of plants will be on sale, including tropical plants, orchids, herbs, bromeliads, citrus, bamboo, begonias, and fruit trees. Specialty vendors will also be present with a variety of items for gift-giving: unique clothing, jewelry, garden art, ceramics, doggie treats, honey, body lotions, candles and more.

?If you’re holiday shopping and wish to buy local, the Botanical Bounty Gift Shop will be open, offering botanically themed products.

Suggested donation for entry into the plant sale is $5 a person, children 12 and under and FBGF Members get in free. 

All events offer free parking. Lots can be found at 12211 Walsingham Road and 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. No rainchecks or refunds.

As for plans for next year’s festivities?

“We are currently planning 20 events for our 20th Anniversary in 2020,” says Boxam. “We have created an ad hoc committee out of our Board Members, and are very excited to showcase all of the different facets of our organization. We will have our staple events, the Annual Garden Tour, Holiday Lights, Pumpkin Fest, as well as new ventures. Our final night of Holiday Lights, January 4th will act as our kick-off for the new year. Guests can check our Facebook and website for more updates!”

Historic holiday scene

Take a stroll back in time by visiting Heritage Village, adjacent to the Botanical Gardens, before it gets dark. The outdoor museum’s frontier homes and outposts will be decked out for Holidays at the Village. 

The event, sponsored by the Heritage Village Volunteers, will get visitors in the spirit of the season with holiday decorations, garlands, and greenery throughout Village. The event showcases how Florida frontier families living in rustic cabins celebrated the holidays as well as how more affluent Victorian families like the famed House of Seven Gables got decked out for the season.

Festival organizers typically wrap the home in garland and red bows and set the dining table for a feast with fine china. Candles sit atop the fireplace mantle and garland drapes the staircase. A huge tree is surrounded by toys that Santa would have delivered to early 20th century kids. Representing more modest folk, there is also an 1852 log cabin decorated in fire-resistant holiday greenery representing what frontier families would have cut from the Florida forest to decorate.

The address for Heritage Village is 11909 125th Street N., Largo. The Village is open Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday 1-4 p.m. Admission is free; call 727-582-2123 for more information or visit The Florida Botanical Gardens website.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.