3 great places to see illuminated Devon Christmas gardens

Illuminated trees painted in shades of colour at RHS Rosemoor.

The lighting display at Rosemoor is all about enhancing the garden’s natural features. - Credit: RHS/Guy Harrop

Festive lights bring a whole new dimension to gardens, and when it’s an RHS garden you can expect the magic to be on a grand scale, writes CATHERINE COURTENAY  

It’s been several years since RHS Garden Rosemoor held its first Glow illuminated garden display, and each time it gets better and better, with new areas of the gardens being added to the trail. 

Having held a successful Glow last winter, despite Covid, the team has forged ahead this year to create an even larger display, confident in the knowledge that they can operate the event within any necessary safety precautions. 

Light illuminations at night at RHS Rosemoor, Devon.

Artworks that features in Rosemoor’s annual sculpture exhibition are incorporated into the illuminations. - Credit: RHS/Guy Harrop

They expect to top the 20,000 visitors who came to Glow in 2020, and with the display getting larger, it was felt that more help was needed to take it to the next level. 

The established lights team at Rosemoor which has always worked on the event, has been joined by specialist lighting production company Illuminate Design. 

Head of Site at Rosemoor, Emma Thompson, says: “We have always done it in house before, but we had so many extra visitors last year. We can’t do more on our own any more, so we have gone out to the experts.” 

The exact details of this year’s display are being kept secret, but Emma says: “We have extended into the Lower Woodland Walk and this has doubled the length of the route. Visitors will see so much more of the garden.”  

She adds: “There is a lot more colour this year - and movement.” 

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Her use of the word ‘movement’ sounds intriguing. Emma can’t elaborate too much more, but she does allude to trees ‘looking like they are in blossom’ and ‘lights moving like water’. 

What makes this particular garden lights display special is the attention to detail and the awareness of how the illuminations will fit in with the trees, shrubs and natural landscape of the garden. 

Emma says: “Our curator Jon Webster is very keen to emphasise that Glow needs to enhance the garden, not just be a place to see coloured lights. 

An illuminated horse for the Glow Christmas display at RHS Rosemoor.

The RHS Rosemoor garden lights display is special because of the attention to detail and the awareness of how the illuminations will fit in with the trees. - Credit: RHS/Guy Harrop

“He and his team work closely with the lighting designers to bring out the garden’s natural features. Both bring their expertise to the table to create something magical.” 

The lights are taken down after each Glow event to be replaced for the next year’s new display, all that is except one oak tree near the education centre. The lights that snake through this massive tree took so much effort and time to initially set up, that they remain in place, says Emma. 

The lights team, made up of Rosemoor’s staff and the Illuminate team, take five days to set up the display in November, they then return for a three-day stint just prior to the big Switch On, to check everything is working and to make any tweaks or adjustments – getting just the right angle or effect on each plant and tree. 

Glow is different every year, which may disappoint some visitors who like to see the same displays, but the idea is to “excite people and bring them back,” says Emma, adding that it’s also in keeping with the way a garden also naturally changes and develops as the months and years go by. 

One change has been to create more spaces along the route where people can stop and take time to look at the lights while remaining socially distanced. “We don’t want people to feel like they’re on a conveyor belt. They can do the trail at their own pace and keep safe at the same time,” says Emma. 

Covid restrictions permitting, Rosemoor’s restaurant will be open for the Glow evenings this year, and there are Christmas craft and food fairs on selected dates. The event also coincides with Rosemoor’s annual sculpture exhibition and several of the artworks situated around the gardens, have been incorporated into the lighting display. 

And although visually different, some aspects of the Glow evenings will remain the same. 

“We’ll still have the same friendly and warm atmosphere – just with a greater ‘wow’ factor added in,” says Emma. 

Glow runs on selected dates, from 4.30-8.30pm, until December 30. Tickets are selling fast and must be booked in advance. 

More garden illuminations 

Illuminated trees for Christmas in Sidmouth.

A trail will lead through Sidmouth's clifftop gardens, - Credit: Connaught@Christmas

Festive lights will decorate the Connaught Gardens in Sidmouth for the first time this year. 

A trail, which is expected to take around 90 minutes to complete, will lead through the town’s clifftop gardens, leading through various themed areas, including a Christmas grotto, with its VIP guest. There will be music and carols at the bandstand, in the heart of the gardens, along with offerings of mulled wine and hot chocolate. 

In addition to the trail, there is an undercover Christmas Food and Craft Fair at the nearby Manor Road Car Park. 

Connaught@Christmas runs daily from December 7-12 between 4.30 and 9.30pm. Tickets for the garden trail need to be booked in advance, but the food and craft fair is free to enter. More details here. 

A family walking through an illuminated archway.

The lights at Killerton will be choreographed to a soundtrack of seasonal music. - Credit: Richard Haughton

There’s another new illuminated trail in the grounds of the National Trust’s Killerton House at Broadclyst. The display sees its gardens transformed with over a million lights and illuminated installations, many of which focus on the trees for which the garden is famed. 

The lights are choreographed to a soundtrack of seasonal music. Some of the promised visual delights include burnished lantern trees filled with flickering flames, neon strings stretched between towering trees, walkthrough Christmas bauble-trees, an arch of hearts and a carpet of gently glowing white roses. 

The National Trust has worked with Sony Music and Culture Creative to make the display, which runs until January 2. It’s open from 4.30pm and Seasonal refreshments and street food stalls will also be available.