Brent McHale has loved holiday decorating since childhood and now is the lead designer for the lights at Gardens Aglow. Photo by Carter Prost

As Gardens Aglow at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens goes back to a walkable experience after two years as a drive-through, light designer Brent McHale says it’s going to be even more magical.

“It felt like we made the peak drive-through experience last year,” said McHale, 25, of Boothbay. “But I’m excited to have a new palette, going back to walk-through. Different areas have different color schemes. And there are opportunities to circle back through a section again or stop and sit.”

This is McHale’s fourth year involved with the display and his first in the lead designer role – his dream job.

“I’ve always loved holiday decorating and lights,” he said. “Starting when I was 14, I’d decorate my parents’ house. One year, I got up to 10,000 lights.”

McHale studied horticulture at Morrisville State College in New York and, in 2019, got a horticulture internship at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. The horticulture team hangs a lot of the approximately 750,000 light bulbs used for Gardens Aglow, and it didn’t take long for McHale’s passion for lighting to become evident.

While he still maintains two garden spaces, he now works with lights more than half the year. He completes the design by August, each tree catalogued in a spreadsheet. Then, with upwards of 100 people pitching in, it takes 10 or 11 weeks to install all the lights. In a straight line, that would be 66 miles of lights. All this for a show open for just 28 nights, starting Nov. 19.

“Tens of thousands of people come through each year to see the lights,” McHale said. “I love seeing people enjoy it. It brings everyone together.”


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