For nearly 10 years, Maura Brush dreamed of bringing a holiday light show to Old Westbury Gardens. As the director of horticulture of the historic site, Brush had wanted to extend the season for visitors. A holiday light show, she felt, was the perfect way to do that.
Brush is fascinated by light—the way it can transform a space by looking one way at dawn versus how it makes the same space look differently mid-day or at sunset. As the mom of three kids ages 7, 11, and 13, Brush knows that people of all ages share her fascination with it. Light seemed like the ideal way to create something new at Old Westbury Gardens to celebrate the holiday season.
During the past few years, people all over have learned to embrace the outdoors for socialization and entertainment. While five years ago an outdoor experience in late fall and winter might not have had as much appeal, Brush points out that COVID helped us learn we are not “a climate-controlled society” and that “we can bundle up and be outside in December!”
Brush’s son Hudson, 11, thinks the cold weather will make the whole experience even cooler—figuratively. “So many people never get to see the gardens at night or in the winter, so this is going to be extra cool for them.” Brush, who hopes for Shimmering Solstice to become a new holiday tradition for people throughout the area, couldn’t agree more!
The Making of Old Westbury Gardens’ Interactive Holiday Light Show
A truly enchanting experience is what Brush and colleagues set out to create about seven years ago, when they first started meeting with possible design companies. They ultimately hired Los Angeles-based Lightswitch to build the light show at Old Westbury Gardens. Lightswitch designers walked through the gardens to get a sense of the space and to build something unique for the specific landscaping. The first thing they did was to build a computer model.
“It was incredible to see what they can do,” Brush shares. Working by Zoom meetings, the teams from Lightswitch and Old Westbury Gardens were able to work out details together from different coasts. Unique features include light displays twinkling in rhythmic patterns in the formal Rose Garden and Walled Garden. Oversized dandelions made of light line the edge of the pond. “It looks like their tops are blowing away in the breeze,” Brush says. A giant Christmas tree, made of lit globes, is on display in front of Westbury House.
“As a historic garden, I’m not in favor of building new structures or building anything that would compromise the integrity of the space,” Brush explains. “With light, you’re not altering anything, and you can create a truly enchanting experience for everyone who comes through the gates.”
In addition to unique features for the space, another thing that sets Shimmering Solstice apart from other light shows is its interactive components. “There is going to be a lot of stuff for the children to actually participate in,” Brush explains. Visitors control the light in the Walled Garden and Labyrinth of Light, where shadow lights allow people to see themselves projected as 15 feet tall on a giant oak tree. The special finale is something you’ll have to visit to experience, but one hint Brush offers is that it will follow Old Westbury Gardens through the four seasons.
Refreshments are available for visitors to enjoy as they walk along the trail. The menu, catered by Lessing’s Hospitality Group, includes things that can be eaten with one hand, from butternut squash soup and veggie chili to chicken sandwiches, holiday treats, and hot cocoa (“sold by the gallon, I’m sure,” Brush adds).
What You Need to Know About Visiting Shimmering Solstice at Old Westbury Gardens
Where is Old Westbury Gardens located?
Old Westbury Gardens is located at 71 Old Westbury Road, Old Westbury.
When is Shimmering Solstice open?
Old Westbury Gardens’ holiday light show runs through Jan. 9, 2022. Admission time starts at 5:30pm and the last admission is at 9:30pm. The gates close at 11pm.
There will be no showings on: Nov. 22-25 and 30; Dec. 7, 14, 21, 24-25, and 28; and Jan. 4, 2022.
How much are tickets to Old Westbury Gardens holiday lights?
Peak tickets are $32.95; $17.95 children ages 3-17. Off-peak tickets are $29.95; $16.95 children ages 3-17 (off-peak dates are: Nov. 20-21, 28-29; Dec. 1, 5-6, 8, 12-13, 15, 19-20, 22; and Jan. 3, 5, 9). On Mondays, except Dec. 27, seniors ages 62 and older are $24.95. There’s also an Any time/Any Day Experience for $75.
Tickets are available to purchase at shimmeringsolstice.com.
What are the Old Westbury Gardens current COVID guidelines?
Following CDC and New York state guidelines, visitors who are fully vaccinated may visit outdoor areas of Old Westbury Gardens without face coverings. All guests over age 2 must wear face coverings in indoor areas (at this time inside Café in the Woods and the public restrooms by the parking area. Visitors who are not fully vaccinated must wear face coverings when social distancing is not feasible.
Main image courtesy @organicmomentsoflight, photographer Heather Cassidy