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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Seasonal lights grace Manito’s Gaiser Conservatory

From left, Stephanie O’Byrne, Tara Newbury and Kathleen Miller are the creative and technical forces behind this year’s Holiday Lights display at the Gaiser Conservatory in Manito Park.
From left, Stephanie O’Byrne, Tara Newbury and Kathleen Miller are the creative and technical forces behind this year’s Holiday Lights display at the Gaiser Conservatory in Manito Park.

It’s Christmas once again at Manito Park’s Gaiser Conservatory. Bright colored lights – thousands of them – twinkle through the windows. Inside, the lights create a magical realm straight from our childhood visions of Christmas.

As I walked through the displays, I almost expected Christmas elves and fairies to appear, making their rounds to bring Christmas cheer and, of course, fulfill Christmas wishes. It felt good to be a kid again for a few minutes.

The magic begins when you enter the conservatory. In the new entrance garden, the conservatory staff carefully coordinated the light displays to enhance the shape, size and color of the plants. A variegated ficus tree is draped with yellow lights, while blue lights follow the stream that flows through the garden. The centerpiece is a large Christmas tree decorated with green and red lights. The entry garden was renovated earlier this fall and is now full of natural light. Throughout the displays, poinsettias and chrysanthemums – all grown on site – add even more color.

In the east wing gardens, the staff took advantage of the plant shapes and hung white lights down the ivy cascading off the benches. A tall white poinsettia tree sits at the entrance to the display. Again, light colors are coordinated with the color of the plants. Even the bromeliad wall is covered in colorful lights as if the plants were blooming. In the center, a sleigh and two reindeer covered with white lights almost look like they will take off at any minute.

Over in the west wing, home to the succulents and cactuses, the bold shapes of the plants lend themselves to creative wrappings of lights. The enormous jade plants, which happen to be blooming with tiny white flowers, are wrapped with amber lights. The 100-year-old Christmas cactus that used to sit in the entry garden has a new home in the center of the garden. It is blooming and is draped in pink lights. Again, poinsettias and chrysanthemums add color to the display.

The creativity behind this annual Christmas treat and all the other seasonal displays in the conservatory is a trio of women who among them have more than 60 years of managing the conservatory. Stephanie O’Byrne manages the overall operations, while Kathleen Miller is the creative force behind the displays and Tara Newbury is responsible for growing the plants for the seasonal displays and the overall health of the permanent plantings. When asked what their favorite part of the work is, they all said creating a beautiful place for the public to visit meant the most to them.

During the recent renovations, a state-of-the-art heat system was installed, with the new main pathway heated, leveled and widened. New energy curtains were installed. Some of the larger plants were removed and new ones planted that will fill the space in a few short years.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.
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