Organizers happy with turnout for Christmas in the Gardens
by Madasyn Czebiniak
Nov 29, 2013 | 4079 views |  0 comments | 73 73 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Longleaf Botanical Gardens lit up for Christmas in the Gardens. Photo by Stephen Gross.
The Longleaf Botanical Gardens lit up for Christmas in the Gardens. Photo by Stephen Gross.
In August, Cheryl Bragg, executive director of the Anniston Museum of Natural History, said the Longleaf Botanical Gardens would be the crown jewel of its upcoming walking tour “Christmas in the Gardens.”

She was right.

The gentle strum of Matt Roberts’ guitar, a decorative sleigh and reindeer, an array of lights, a Christmas tree, and a train of colorful vegetables greeted more than 150 visitors to the Longleaf Botanical Gardens. The inaugural walking tour is organized by the Botanical Gardens, the Berman Museum of World History and Anniston Museum of Natural History, with each group hosting a portion of the walk.

The Doors exhibition and decorating competition, in which local participants decorated doors as opposed to Christmas trees in honor of the gardens’ grand opening, drew others into the old Lenlock Community Center gym. There, visitors could purchase locally made Christmas decorations and were encouraged to vote for their favorite door design by donating $1 to benefit the gardens.

The tour will take place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Friday and Saturday until Dec. 14, according to the museum’s website.

Admission is $10 or more, depending on the size of the group.

The tour begins at the Museum of Natural History, which is home to the Critter Castle, overseen by the live animal caretaker, Darlene Berta. The History Museum’s portion also includes Peppermint Palace, overseen by museum secretary Angie Dothard.

Berta had several animals for visitors to interact with at Critter Castle, including an owl named Archimedes, an alligator named Scooter and a python named Gandalf.

“I prefer animals people can’t always get their hands on. How many chances do you have to pet an owl?” she said.

At the Peppermint Palace, children and their parents could write and mail letters to Santa and make Christmas tree decorations.

“We have an official Santa mailbox outside, music and fun decorations, and they get a candy cane when they leave,” said Dothard. “They seem to be enjoying the trees.”

Bragg said the museum staff made most of the decorations and signs. The complex spent a total of $50,000 on the event, which took three to four months to complete, Bragg said.

“We ordered very little. Basically we just ordered our lights,” she said.

At the next stop on the tour, the Berman Museum of World History, visitors could try their luck with a BB gun, order popcorn and cider or sit on Santa’s lap.

“It’s phenomenal,” 63-year-old Sharron Crow said about the toys in the Berman Museum. “I cannot express myself enough. The warmth you feel when you go inside and look at the vintage’s really had a special effect on our age group.”

Other visitors, like Nancy Hildebrant, agreed.

“It’s just really putting us in the holiday spirit because it’s not overdone but it’s good,” she said.

Hildebrant, who was enjoying the tour with her husband, nephew and her nephew’s girlfriend, added that, “The atmosphere in here brings back sweet memories of waiting for Santa.”

Nancy’s husband, Steve, who is a chair for the Longleaf Botanical Gardens, said he was thrilled to see the site finally open to the public.

“The gardens have made tremendous progress in the past couple of years,” he said. “There’s been a lot of anticipation, and this is a great event to open the gardens.”

The path to the gardens, called the “Road to Bethlehem” — is a nativity scene adorned with Christmas lights.

By the end of the tour, Crow, a first-time visitor to the Botanical Gardens, said she didn’t know which she liked more.

“The adjectives won’t flow like I want them to,” she said as she looked around. “The creativity and the colors — it really is a wonderland.”

Both Bragg and David Cummings, a board member at the Natural History Museum, said they hope the event will become an annual celebration.

“We need something for Christmas in this community ...” Cummings said.

“A new holiday tradition!” Bragg chimed in.

Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.

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