While many of the plants at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia are dormant during the winter, the garden’s annual light show, Winter WonderLights, continues to grow.
This year’s show, presented by the UGA Office of the President, marks the second year of Athens’ newest winter tradition. Lighted displays delighted children and adults on select evenings from Nov. 23, 2022, through Jan. 8, 2023.
The State Botanical Garden sold over 56,000 tickets to the show. Visitors to the show represented 132 Georgia counties and 45 states.
This year, the State Botanical Garden extended Winter WonderLights to include evenings around the Thanksgiving holiday. Winter WonderLights November Nights on Nov. 23, 25 and 27 welcomed over 2,300 visitors, many of whom were in town celebrating Thanksgiving with family.
Kayla Joyner from Athens attended Winter WonderLights on the opening night, the evening before Thanksgiving, with her family. She was excited that Winter WonderLights offered shows around Thanksgiving this year since many people have relatives in town.
“I think it’s a brilliant idea,” said Joyner. “We brought family from Florida, and they’re having a blast.”
This season’s Winter WonderLights featured two new light animals crafted by local artist Chris Taylor, and the number of lights increased from 1 million to an estimated 1.4 million.
The State Botanical Garden partnered with local businesses, including Koons Environmental Design and College Pro Landscaping, which designed and installed the show. Special light features were installed by Universal Concepts.
Locally owned by brothers Nick and Peter Dale, Condor Chocolates created a Winter WonderBar to coincide with the garden’s holiday light show. Condor Chocolates also sold over 17,000 cups of its delicious hot chocolate at two locations throughout Winter WonderLights.
An estimated 10 couples became engaged at Winter WonderLights this year. Cody Powell proposed to his fiancee, Megan Harris, in front of the 40-foot cone tree on Dec. 21.
Powell and Harris, both UGA students from Loganville, Ga., have been together for almost four years. Powell came to Winter WonderLights on Dec. 20 to scope out a good spot for the proposal.
“She said a few years ago she wanted a Christmas-themed proposal,” Powell said. “We had our senior prom pictures taken at the State Botanical Garden, and I thought it would be a great spot.”
After she said yes, the crowd around them clapped and cheered. They’re planning for a wedding in the summer of 2024.
Winter WonderLights wouldn’t be possible without the support of local volunteers who give their time during the busy end of the year. Scottie Henderson, Bonnie Jones and Lisa Davis are local to Athens and have been friends for 15 years. They enjoyed volunteering at the s’mores stations together.
“My favorite part is the interaction with the kids,” Henderson said. “It’s fun and festive and gets us doing something.”
Dedicated volunteers donated over 2,200 hours to help spread cheer at Winter WonderLights this year.
Many local businesses sponsored this year’s show, which was presented by the University of Georgia Office of the President. Premium sponsors included Georgia Power and Athens Ford, the official dealership of Winter WonderLights. Other sponsors included Barron’s Rentals, Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center, The Frierson Parker Group – Merrill Lynch and members of the local community.
Proceeds from ticket sales, parking and merchandise will go back into the garden, supporting education, horticulture and conservation programs. Special events, like Winter WonderLights, annual festivals, classes, camps and special programs, help provide funding so that daily entrance to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit, is free.
For more information about the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, visit botgarden.uga.edu.
Writer: Laurel Clark, Laurel.Clark@uga.edu
Contact: Jenny Cruse-Sanders, email@example.com