Behind the scenes of the Winter Walk of Lights at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

We spoke with Meadowlark’s program manager and holiday-display coordinator about this twinkling NoVA tradition.

Photo courtesy of NOVA Parks

NoVA is home to a variety of holiday traditions—catching the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights in Alexandria, seeing The Nutcracker performances across the region, and walking through the Winter Walk of Lights at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.

To get a sneak peek at this year’s display, we spoke with Jules Maloney, Meadowlark’s Program Manager. Below, she shared with us her favorite parts of the Winter Walk of Lights, how it’s set up each and every year and what readers should know before their visit this holiday season.

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How long do you plan for the Winter Walk of Lights?
It’s a year-round process. We’re already thinking a couple years ahead. Each year, when I get our annual brass ornament in, I’m already thinking ahead to next year.

But we meet monthly each year to set the budget and what our ideas are for the new features. A lot of the ordering is done for lights and displays in early summer, and we have to make sure we order all of the light-up things that guests can wear (to be stocked in the Snowflake Shoppe). It’s a really tough job to choose fun, light-up things! And we start wrapping the trees in late August.

Speaking of lights, how many would you say are on display this year?
Our guess-timate is heading around 750,000, but it’s hard to tell when you have things like rope lighting. It grows every year. Plus, we put guest favorites up every year, but sometimes we mix things up and we have new displays to surprise them with.

What is new for 2019 (without giving away too many of the surprises)?
Guests won’t be able to miss this one garden of giant flowers. We were putting that out just the other day, and it was funny because it’s located in our tropical gardens. In the fall, we dig up all of the plants from that garden and put them in the greenhouse for the winter. And with the lights, it’s definitely a bold garden now. It’s a costume change for the area. There is also another space that will have moving, lit-up animals.

What is your favorite part of the Winter Walk of Lights?
That’s like choosing which child is your favorite. I have to say though, the wrapped trees themselves. Nature knows architecture and beauty so well that it’s effortless, and the way we decorate them makes it look like beautiful sculptures.

What does it mean to be able to provide this type of experience to NoVA residents each year?
We are really proud to be able to provide something for all ages, and that it has a focus on winter and nature. So, we really want people to come and take a winter walk (and to wear good walking shoes!). Also, the niece of Caroline Ware (who donated the property for the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, who has since passed away) has told us that her aunt would be so happy to see so many people coming out for a winter walk through the park.

Any advice for those planning to attend the Winter Walk of Lights this year?
Make sure to save room if you eat dinner before so you can come and eat s’mores! You can buy a s’mores kit and roast them over the fire at the patio, and enjoy a hot beverage. Also, the best ticket prices are online, with great discounts in November and the first week of January (before it closes for the season). So you definitely want to buy your ticket online to save and reserve your spot on the date and time you want to enter. You can even change it if you need to. But when it comes to the peak weekends in December, it’s really important to have bought those tickets early. And always wear good walking shoes and dress for the weather! // Meadowlark Botanical Gardens: 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna; tickets begin at $8

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