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Many hands make holiday lights work

Thu., Dec. 11, 2008

Gaiser Conservatory show a joint effort

The fuchsia-colored Christmas cactus is 102 years old. It’s beautiful and almost at the peak of blooming, but it can’t overshadow the 12 different kinds of poinsettias that provide a beautiful red speckled background to the Holiday Light Show at the Gaiser Conservatory.

Since 1994, the Friends of Manito and Spokane Parks and Recreation staff at Manito’s Gaiser Conservatory have joined forces to put on an annual holiday light show inside the cozy greenhouse.

“They didn’t do it during ice storm, but I think that’s the only year we’ve skipped,” said Kathleen Miller, who designs and maintains the Gaiser Conservatory. “It’s a free show. It’s the Friends of Manito’s way to say thank you for the community’s support during the rest of the year.”

More than 30,000 Christmas lights are strung up the tree trunks, around cacti, over scrubs and around the planting tables. Lit snowflakes dangle from the tall ceilings along side glittering balls – and candy canes line the flowerbeds.

“New this year is the sleigh that goes with the reindeer, and the lit-up presents,” Miller said. “And there’s a little village by the front door.”

The show brings thousands of people to the greenhouse in the middle of winter.

There are more than 600 poinsettias on display; all have been cultivated at the conservatory.

“We get them in June when they are about three inches tall, and grow them to a standard size poinsettia like the ones you’ll put on your table,” said Miller. Some of the plants are kept from year-to-year and have grown into small trees that are several feet tall. That’s not an easy feat for amateur gardeners to accomplish.

“People always want to know if they can get their poinsettia to bloom again next year. I usually say to throw it out and just buy a new one,” said Kathleen Miller, who designs and maintains the Gaiser Conservatory. “Poinsettias need a lot of very specific pruning and trimming to bloom again. Most people don’t want to fuss with that.”

It’s the staff at the conservatory – including Tara Newberry, Paul Haberbush and Stephanie O’Byrne – who string most of the lights. Volunteers from the Friends of Manito take the lights down and pack them away.

“We are so grateful for their help, it’s such a tedious job to pack up the lights,” said Miller. “But the show is a wonderful thing for us to make happen.”

Reach Pia Hallenberg Christensen at (509) 459-5427 or

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