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Holiday Exhibit Delights from the Outside In

U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory decorated for the holidays
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The Enchanted Forest
The Enchanted Forest, photo by Nick Nelson

USBG staff at work decorating for holiday exhibit
USBG staff prepping for holiday exhibit, photo by Nick Nelson

Landscape Architect Nick Nelson details the process he undertook to design the 2012 Season’s Greenings holiday exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden.

For most people, the thought, “Is it the holidays already?” usually hits right around Thanksgiving, but it happens a couple of seasons earlier for us at the U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG).

Here, we start planning our annual holiday exhibit in the spring and the physical installation starts in mid-to-late October. When the decorating starts, there is always that tender individual that says, “Should we turn on some holiday music?” But we don’t — it’s still too early for that.  

The model train exhibit at the USBG is immensely popular and has become a yearly tradition for many visitors and neighbors on Capitol Hill. I never get tired of the surprised look that comes across the faces of those seeing the miniature replicas of the National Mall buildings and memorials and realizing they are actually made of different plant parts. And of course, we have gorgeous holiday plant displays, courtesy of our amazing horticulture staff.

This was my first year planning the exhibit, Season’s Greenings, and while there are some new displays, I wanted to make subtle changes that wouldn’t disappoint those looking for familiarity.

I focused more on lighting to create magic inside the Conservatory at night and draw attention from the outside. We previously lacked a presence along Independence Avenue, so this year, we added lit trees on top of the roof. Together with expanded color-changing lights in the Conservatory dome, we created a beacon that is hard to miss.

I really got a taste for how busy the Garden can get. When I worked Black Friday, I saw the line extend outside and around the building. Little faces pressed up against the glass, trying to get a glimpse of whatever they could. Seeing the children come inside and react with such excitement makes this monumental effort truly rewarding.   

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