Amid darkness, Nightscape shines

Three years ago, the Longwood Gardens staff began exploring ways to ease the pain of losing the main fountain garden – anchor of the popular summer fireworks displays – during its 2 ½-year restoration.

The cacti in Longwood's Silver Garden take on a variety of new hues in Nightscape.

The cacti in Longwood's Silver Garden take on a variety of new hues in Nightscape.

Executive director Paul B. Redman said options included bringing in temporary fountains or setting up fireworks in another location. Both would have produced a less-spectacular outcome, inconsistent with the pioneering vision espoused by Longwood’s founder, Pierre S. du Pont.

With apparent prescience, Longwood decided to showcase its plants in an illuminating fashion - long before the United Nations proclaimed 2015 the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies. (The U.N. proclamation pays homage to how light-based technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to myriad global challenges, a mission in synch with du Pont’s prowess in engineering and environmentalism.)

Redman said Longwood selected Klip Collective, billed as a visual art shop bridging projection lighting, technology and storytelling, to produce “Nightscape: A Light and Sound Experience.” It debuted Wednesday night, July 1, to an enthusiastic, sold-out crowd of Longwood Gardens' members, area officials, and stakeholders.

The moon is real, but the lights add an otherworldly feel to the plants in the Rose Arbor.

The moon is real, but the lights add an otherworldly feel to the plants in the Rose Arbor.

Ricardo Rivera, Klip Collective’s co-founder, said the project represented a departure for him in that he typically completes a work in a couple of months rather than a couple of years. “Here’s our garden; it’s your canvas,” Rivera said of Longwood’s instructions. “It’s crazy how much rope they gave us.”

Rivera said for about a year, he traveled from Philadelphia to Kennett Square two to four nights a month with his crew. Assisted by Longwood’s electrical and horticultural teams, Rivera, a frequent Sundance Film Festival participant who holds a patent for breakthrough technology in video projection mapping, worked until the sun came up.

He said he got his inspiration from the gardens, experimenting with different plants. Ultimately, he said the hardest part was deciding which plants not to use.

Nightscape encompasses nine locations, where viewers are immersed in a kaleidoscope of color and sound: the Rose Arbor, Large Lake, Flower Garden Walk, Flower Garden Drive, Topiary Garden, the Legacy Tree, the Silver Garden, the Palm House, and the East Conservatory entrance.

Projectors, such as this one hanging from the ceiling of the Silver Garden, transform nine Longwood locations into a sea of light during Nightscape.

Projectors, such as this one hanging from the ceiling of the Silver Garden, transform nine Longwood locations into a sea of light during Nightscape.

Patricia Evans, Longwood’s communications manager, said Nightscape cost about $1 million to produce. However, she said most of the money went toward the required equipment, which will be retained for use in the Main Fountain Revitalization project.

Continuing its penchant for recycling, Longwood also debuted its first-ever Beer Garden Wednesday night, a partnership with Victory Brewing Company that accompanies the Nightscape exhibit. The Beer Garden will be open Wednesday through Saturday evenings from 6 to 11 p.m. for Nightscape ticket-holders.

The Beer Garden was constructed using wood from a fallen Longwood sequoia. Along with pub-style fare, the Beer Garden will offer a variety of beers on tap, including a new Longwood signature brew, Longwood Seasons: Summer Zest, which features lemons grown at Longwood.

Guests at the Wednesday night premiere of Nightscape get an extra reminder that they were in the right place, courtesy of a decorated Zip car.

Guests at the Wednesday night premiere of Nightscape get an extra reminder that they were in the right place, courtesy of a decorated Zip car.

Bill Covaleski, a Victory Brewing Company co-founder, said Summer Zest evolved through “a true collaboration” with Longwood and Victory as “both parties sat down to compare what they could bring to the table.”

Praising the partnership, Covaleski, who attended Wednesday night’s opening with Victory co-founder Ron Barchet, said he was astounded by Nightscapes’ artistry. “It is a local attraction to really be proud of, and that says a lot with all that we have to share here in Chester County!” Covaleski said.

Scudder G. Stevens, supervisors’ chairman in Kennett Township, was equally impressed. “The flow of the lights on the continuously moving ‘canvas’ of the plants added depth, color and a different character to those plants otherwise,” he said.

Dan Maffei, Kennett Square’s Borough Council vice-president, agreed. Maffei, who owns a landscape design company and teaches in Longwood’s continuing education program, said Nightscape continues the high standards area residents have come to expect from Longwood.

A walk down Flower Garden Drive immerses Nightscape guests into a whirl of colorful patterns. Photo courtesy of Klip Collective

A walk down Flower Garden Drive immerses Nightscape guests into a whirl of colorful patterns. Photo courtesy of Klip Collective

Maffei said he preferred some of the displays more than others, a typical reaction to any good art installation. Calling the experience at times “otherworldly” and “mesmerizing,” Maffei said the Topiary Garden particularly enthralled him.

“They became alive,” he said of the plants. “They became another thing that I never would have imagined. It just drew me in and kept changing.”

Offering a tip to future viewers, Maffei said he and his wife almost missed the topiary’s splendor. Unlike some of the other displays, it tells a story and requires protracted viewing in much the same way as the Large Lake display does.

One difference between the two is that the Topiary Garden story starts out more slowly, taking several minutes to gain momentum. Some viewers, unaware that they would be missing out, walked away before seeing the finale.

Karen Scherer, a Cochranville resident, said she got so entranced by the topiary installation that she didn’t get to see all nine attractions.

“I just kept staring because it kept changing,” Scherer said. “I didn’t want to miss anything. And I kept wondering: How did they do that?”

Echoing the sentiments of many of the premiere’s visitors, Scherer said she is already looking forward to her next visit.

The trees surrounding the Longwood's Large Lake appear to melt into the water during one of Nightscape's crowd-pleasing segments.

The trees surrounding the Longwood's Large Lake appear to melt into the water during one of Nightscape's crowd-pleasing segments.

Throughout Nightscape, Longwood will offer a variety of special programs and activities. For example, each Thursday regional artists will perform live from 7 to 10 p.m. in the Beer Garden. “Gardens on Tap,” a look at the art, chemistry, and horticulture behind botanically inspired cocktails, spirits, and brews, will be held on Sept. 16 and Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

On July 20, Aug. 14, Sept. 11, and Oct. 9, visitors are invited to join “Artist and Friends,” a panel at 7 and 9 p.m. that will include a rotating cast of some of the Nightscape contributors, including Rivera and musical composer Jon Barthmus. They will discuss cutting-edge topics inspired by the technology, art, music, and design of Nightscape.

Family Nights will be held July 15 and Aug. 19, offering a Nightscape-inspired seek-and-find activity, the opportunity to engage with staff in locations throughout the gardens, and a live performance in the East Conservatory Plaza at 7 p.m.

Nightscape is a rain or shine event. If rain threatens, guests are encouraged to bring umbrellas to view the outdoor displays. Evans said that even though rain occurred during the staff preview a week ago, it did not dampen the experience; it just required the addition of umbrellas.

Prospective visitors should be prepared to do a lot of walking so wear comfortable shoes. Seeing Nightscape in its entirety will take about 90 minutes. Make sure you linger at the Topiary Garden and the Large Lake displays to avoid missing any of the spectacle.

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The Marc Silver Trio entertains the Beer Garden crowd at Wednesday night's premiere of Nightscape at Longwood Gardens.

“The best thing about it is the nuances,” said Rivera of his creation, advising guests to let their eyes adjust to the darkness and enjoy all the subtleties.

As forms – a mix of conceptual and concrete – morph and disappear, the light dances, remarkably contained within the shape of its horticultural host. On Wednesday night, both the Topiary Garden and the Large Lake shows prompted spontaneous applause at the end of their cycles from the crowd of more than 3,000.

Being prepared for an occasional bottleneck is also recommended. Although Longwood limited tickets to about 3,000 per night to ensure a positive viewing experience, some pedestrian jams did occur, particularly in the inside displays. However, officials said they are taking steps to improve the traffic flow.

Visitors who are unfamiliar with the gardens should arrive early enough to visit the nine display sites during daylight, which will make the nighttime transformation even more dramatic.

Nightscape will be on view Wednesday through Saturday evenings from 6 to 11p.m. through Oct. 31. Because it requires darkness, it will begin at 9:30 p.m. in July, 9 p.m. in August, 8:30 p.m. in September, and 7:30 p.m. in October.

Tickets, which include all-day admission, are required and should be purchased in advance. Admission is $27 for adults (ages 19 and up); $17 for students (ages 5–18); and free for ages 4 and under. Members do not require a ticket, but do need a free reservation. For more information, visit www.longwoodgardens.org/nightscape.

 

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