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Florida Botanical Gardens lights up
Local volunteers share holiday magic
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More than 500,000 LED lights are placed with care on plants, tree and more to make holiday magic come to life at Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.
Visitors flock to this amazing display of colorful birds. The sign says the display is sponsored by Lancaster Insurance Inc.
Chuck Scaffidi, Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation president and volunteer coordinator at the county’s Extension Services, stands under the gazebo in the Rose Garden as he thanks volunteers and sponsors for their hard work on this year’s Holiday Lights in the Gardens.
Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel tells volunteers to pat themselves on the back for the great job they did on the 2012 Holiday Lights in the Garden display.
Chuck Scaffidi, Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation president and volunteer coordinator at the county’s Extension Services, thanks Terry Berube, Foundation secretary and membership chair, for her idea of a vinery garden.
Volunteers, members of the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation, its board and their guests gather in the Rose Garden during a special by-invitation preview Nov. 19 of this year’s Holiday Lights in the Gardens display.
The Vinery Garden is all aglow for its premier appearance at Holiday Lights in the Gardens.
Holiday Lights in the Gardens is open nightly through Jan. 1.
Follow the lights from the main entrance to find the holiday magic at Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo. Admission is $2 donation for adults. Children under age 12 admitted free.
There’s a lot of magic going on at Florida Botanical Gardens this time of year, especially at night.

Everywhere you look, the gardens are all decked out, illuminated by the power of more than a half million LED lights adorning plants and trees and more.

But it’s not all about the lights; it’s also about the people who volunteer their time to create holiday magic to share with everyone who stops by.

Those volunteers, members of the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation, its board and their guests gathered for a special by-invitation preview Nov. 19.

“Stunning.” “Beautiful.” “Amazing.” “I can’t believe they manage to top themselves each year,” were some of the comments heard as people meandered along the garden paths.

Holiday Lights in the Gardens opened to the public Friday, Nov. 23, and continues through Tuesday, Jan. 1, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Suggested donation is $2 per adult Children under 12 admitted free. Parking is free.

Florida Botanical Gardens is located 12520 Ulmerton Road in Largo inside Pinewood Cultural Park. It’s sandwiched between Ulmerton and Walsingham roads with entrances on both sides.

Call 727-582-2100.

Nightly family-friendly entertainment adds to the excitement with an assortment of musicians, dancers and a juggler on the schedule of events. Santa and Mrs. Claus stop by for a visit nearly every night. Check the complete schedule at www.f­lbg.o­rg.

Food and beverages are available for purchase, and Botanical Bounty gift shop is open offering gifts and goods with proceeds benefiting the FBG Foundation.

Two special events planned are the gift and plant sale Sunday, Dec. 9, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., featuring more than 45 vendors, and a dog parade on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2 p.m.

At the Nov. 19 preview, Chuck Scaffidi, Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation president and volunteer coordinator at the county’s Extension Services, talked about all the time and effort it takes to transform the gardens into a wonderland.

Planning and design takes place for about a year, as the volunteer force focuses on ways to “change things around and add new things” to keep the thrill alive each season.

“Dedicated people from all walks of life – that’s what makes Holiday Lights in the Garden a star event,” he said.

One of the new things about this year’s display is the contractor who made the volunteers’ plans come to life. Instead of the company from Miami used in past years, a local company, Decorating Elves put up the lights.

“And they look like Santa’s elves, all wearing red T-shirts,” Scaffidi said.

As he began to thank those involved in this year's event, he commented that there were too many to name them all. He singled out the Foundation board who work year-round not only on the holiday display but also on keeping the gardens world class. He also talked about the 160 Master Gardeners who do the equivalent of 11 to 12 full-time employees and the Foundation members, who number more than 300.

He thanked the many donors and sponsors, including major sponsors Bright House, Clear Channel Outdoor and Tampa Bay Times, who provided thousands of dollars of donated advertising.

Many other sponsors donated services or money and some took responsibility of an individual display, earning them a sign with their name.

Scaffidi thanked Pinellas County and Parks & Conservation Resources Director Paul Cozzie and his staff.

“They’re wonderful to work with,” he said. “Many things we’ve done are due to their cooperation and mutual interest in our world-class gardens.”

Pinellas County Communications also received a thank you for assisting in getting the word out to the public and media about the yearly event.

Commissioner Karen Seel, who Scaffidi praised as a long-time supporter of Holiday Lights and the gardens and a person “who truly loves Pinellas County,” also provided some inspirational words of support to the volunteers assembled in the Rose Garden.

“I can’t tell you how much it means to be here with all of you,” she said. “We couldn’t do this without you and Chuck, who is such an inspirational person.”

Seel said since the downturn in the economy, more than 50 percent of the budget for the parks has been cut.

“We couldn’t keep up without the volunteers who make this a special place,” she said, as she encouraged them all to give themselves a pat on the back. “You help us preserve so many of the assets Pinellas County has. You give from the heart and believe in the beauty and mission of the botanical gardens.”

Scaffidi had one more person to single out for a special contribution to this year’s attraction.

Terry Berube is the Foundation’s secretary and membership chair. She moved to Florida in 2003 and was happy to take advantage of the year-round growing opportunities.

About a year ago, Berube suggested a vinery garden, Scaffidi said. She kept pushing her idea until she got approval from the FBGF board. Nov. 19 also marked the grand opening for the new 8,000 square foot vinery garden, located on the left of the exit out of the Palm Garden.

Berube refused to take credit for more than a “little idea,” and passed the praise on to Bob Funari, crew chief with the county’s Parks and Conservation Resources department.

“Bob took it and ran with it,” she said. “Bob Funari made it happen.”

Scaffidi talked about the future of the gardens and his wish list, which includes more art in the near-term and perhaps a conservatory as a long-term goal.

“We have 100 or so acres on this campus,” he said. “It would be nice to have a conservatory.”

Volunteers, Foundation members and garden sponsors are always welcome. For more information, email Chuck Scaffidi at or call 727-582-2117.

Last year, more than 60,000 visited the holiday display – about 18,000 more than the year before. Volunteers collected $96,000 in donations, which pay for new lights and displays and installation costs. The money also goes to pay entertainers. The remainder goes toward maintenance of the gardens throughout the year.

Organizers and volunteers are hopeful that even more people will stop by and view the fruits of their labor of love this year.

This is the fifth year since the Foundation took over Holiday Lights in the Garden. In 2008, budget cuts forced the county to nix the annual event. Fortunately, the Foundation stepped in to keep everything glowing.

Scaffidi admits a lot has been learned since the Foundation took over.

“This is our fourth year and we finally got good enough to do some good things,” Scaffidi said in an interview last year. “We’ve got the wow factor.”

This year, Scaffidi upgraded the “wow factor” and now says Holiday Lights in the Garden is a “star event.” Everyone who attended the Nov. 19 event agreed.

“It just gets better every year,” a woman said, as she admired the new laser light display.

Holiday Lights in the Gardens is open through Jan. 1.
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