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Inspired by a Kyoto exhibit, Maymont unveils its glowing nighttime garden

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A garden is one thing during daylight hours and completely different at night.

For Peggy Singlemann, that difference was driven home when she visited Japan four years ago. Walking through a garden in Kyoto at 8 p.m., she was struck by the magical quality the garden took on because of the extensive lighting. As director of park operations and horticulture for Maymont, she couldn't wait to bring the idea home.

Creating theatricality similar to that of the Kyoto garden seemed a natural for Maymont's own Japanese garden.

"It's very dramatic," she says of the way the many lights accentuate fall colors, illuminate the architecture and steps and highlight pathways. "To walk a garden in daylight, you can see all the garden in view, but at night with lights, it comes alive in a whole different way."

Garden Glow, as Maymont has dubbed the event, debuts Oct. 27 and runs for two weeks rain or shine unless there's a severe storm. Every night, the Japanese Garden will be open to the public from 6 to 10 p.m., with golf carts escorting visitors from the Nature Center to the garden every 15 minutes until 9:15 p.m. Lighted vignettes along the way will set the mood even before reaching the garden. The generators used to power the lights are quiet ones used on movie sets, chosen so they won't be a distraction from the peaceful setting.

To fully immerse visitors in the experience, a full slate of activities aimed at adults and children are scheduled at the Nature Center. Boat-making from bamboo leaves, seek and find games and origami are among the activities geared to younger visitors, while others can check out sushi-making demonstrations, a tea ceremony or experience a taiko drummer. Two food trucks, Espresso-A-Go-Go and Goatocado, will be on-site, as well as a beverage station with sake, beer and family-friendly drinks.

"Our mission is to inspire, delight and educate," Singlemann explains. "We've worked closely with the Ikebena Society to make sure we have it right and to tap into the rich Japanese community we have here in Richmond."

Part of Maymont's goal with Garden Glow is to introduce visitors to the Japanese garden in the context of night, as well as to attract those who may not have been to the garden recently so that they might think of Maymont in a whole new way.

Based on other evening events, Maymont's staff anticipates the weekends being the busiest times, so smart visitors will want to visit during the week. Reserving time slots online is strongly recommended. And while tickets are timed for every quarter hour, visitors can linger as long as they like before the glow is extinguished at 10 p.m.

Although Singlemann's inspiration took a few years to bring to fruition, she acknowledges that every idea has its time. "The Japanese garden is so beloved by Richmond, so we're hoping they'll come and see this garden bathed in light," she says. "We're very family-friendly, but there's something for everybody. Couples are bound to find it romantic. I see some engagements coming up." S

Garden Glow takes place at Maymont from Oct. 27 — Nov. 11 from 6-10 p.m. nightly. Tickets at maymont.org.

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