Gardens Aglow, a holiday light display at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, features over 300 lighted statues in sight of a mile-long walking trail this year, including two of the gardens’ giant troll sculptures. Tristan Spinski photo, courtesy of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Brent McHale has come a long way since his first light display. He started out buying strings of tiny incandescent bulbs as a kid on Boxing Day, when they were half-price. At 16, he lit up his parents’ home with 10,000 lights.

Fast forward a few years, and it’s his third year running as the lighting designer for the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens holiday light display, Gardens Aglow. Here, his light count is boosted to about 750,000 LEDs spread across the Boothbay gardens.

This year, McHale was the self-described “mastermind” behind draping, twining, wrapping and generally persuading 66 miles of string lights into place.

A repurposed greenhouse is transformed into the Aurora Borealis at Gardens Aglow. Tristan Spinski photo, courtesy of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Entering Gardens Aglow over the wide, wooden bridge from the visitor’s center is nothing less than time travel. The trees fade snugly behind lighted pendants like crumpled black satin around a diamond. A strong urge comes over you to crane your neck and look up.

McHale didn’t realize they had a light show when he came to work at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens as a horticulture intern in 2019. Back then, it was on a $5,000 budget. But after the previous lighting designer stepped down, McHale took on the project. It takes him and 100 staff nearly three months to light the gardens. Last year, Gardens Aglow had about 120,000 visitors.

The revenue from Gardens Aglow is used to cover the gardens’ general operating costs, including staff salaries, building maintenance, and the purchase and upkeep of its many plants. The additional cost of electricity is heavily mitigated by the gardens’ swap to high-efficiency LEDs that use 15 times less energy than incandescent bulbs.


“I have a lot of free rein, which is really wonderful,” said McHale, who says his favorite thing to light is “an old, well-branched tree.”

A lighthouse surrounded by waves whose blue lights give the appearance of motion is a new feature this year, the gardens’ ninth putting on a holiday light display. Tristan Spinski photo, courtesy of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

“I’m already thinking about ideas for next year,” he added.

For Meredith Steele and her family — residents of Bath — the Miss Rumphius Garden was a big hit.

Steele remarked that many of the Christmas events in the area are designed for viewing through a car window.

“There’s not a lot where your kids can really explore,” she said.

Not so at Gardens Aglow. Over 300 lit-up statues peer out from the fold of trees along what is now a mile-long walking route. They include three moose, one ruby-throated hummingbird, a fox, a turtle, two owls and too many mushrooms to count.

Two of the gardens’ five wooden troll sculptures, Roskva and Lilja, are resplendent, trees like light sabers within reach of their massive hands.

“It makes you want to decorate at home,” Steele said.

Gardens Aglow at the Coastal Main Botanical Gardens is open Thursday through Sunday and select Wednesdays through Dec. 31. Tickets are for sale online at or over the phone at 633-8000. Pricing is $19 per adult, $10 per child and $48 for a family (two adults and two children). Discounts are available for members.

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