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Beneficial Garden Creatures Aglow at Lake Merritt Festival of Lights 2021

By Jonathan Draper

nigh time glow

The Master Gardeners of Alameda County are proud to be active participants in the Gardens at Lake Merritt. This seven-acre collection of gardens in the heart of Oakland has delighted, inspired, and educated visitors for decades.

Besides the Master Gardener Trials Garden, there are twenty-some other sections of this urban parkland, including a bonsai garden, a pollinator garden, and a succulent garden, to name just a few. 

For the past ten years, an annual October event, the Autumn Lights Festival, has been held at the Gardens as a fundraiser for upkeep, improvements, and additions to all the gardens. For the event, Bay Area artists are invited to create lighted structures throughout the park to dazzle the thousands of paying visitors during the three nights of the festival.

For this year’s festival, Alameda County Master Gardeners Monica Schmid and Roger Marin embarked on a plan to create larger-than-life images of a flower and some beneficial pollinators you might want to have in your garden. While Monica, an accomplished jewelry maker, worked on artistic designs of five selected creatures, Roger investigated ways to bring the creatures to light. He decided to use “Flexible 360 Degree Neon LED Rope Lights” which come in a variety of colors. It was decided to use green for the hummingbird, purple for the flower, blue for the butterfly, yellow for the dragonfly, and orange for the bat. Each would be attached to a ¼-inch plywood cutout painted a complementary color. Supplies were ordered online and everything arrived on time. (Yay! No pandemic delays!)

building the forms
After Monica jigsawed and painted her designed creature cutouts, she and Roger divided the work of cutting and attaching the rope lights (using plastic clips), shaping them along the cutouts’ edges with their many curves and sharp turns. The final step was to add a plug to the end of the rope. Miracle or skill?-- All five creatures brightly lit up on the first test!

all creatures
For displaying the lighted creations at the festival, Master Gardeners were able to repurpose supplies from their previous Alameda County Fair exhibits-- including eight-foot-tall “banner poles”, which had been embedded in concrete in 10-gallon aluminum buckets (for stability). Four of the creatures were mounted high on poles, while the bat was hung up nearby in the garden’s tall tree. The festival managers provided a generator for electricity.

daytime display
Also repurposed from the county fair was our “photo booth”-- a 4’x4’ painting of a monarch butterfly on plywood, with a large hole cut out for visitors to poke their heads through for a quick snapshot.  Adults, as well as children, had fun posing as a butterfly. 

This year’s Autumn Lights Festival drew some 3,000 visitors each night for three nights. Many stopped by the Master Gardener Trials Garden to marvel at the glowing beneficial garden creatures and to snap photos. Many visitors walked away with answers to a gardening question or with gardening literature.

Further Information:

Lake Merritt Trials Garden: https://acmg.ucanr.edu/Demonstration_Gardens/Lakeside_Trials_Garden/

2021 Autumn Lights Festival website: https://gardensatlakemerritt.org/autumn-lights-festival-2021/ 

For a map showing all the gardens that make up The Gardens at Lake Merritt go to:  gardensatlakemerritt.org