Glowing gardens

California Outdoor Lighting uses lights and music to transform South Coast Botanic Garden.
Named “Bubble Lane,” multicolored, glowing orbs dot the brightly lit landscape of South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes Estates, California, during the second year of Garden Lights & Ocean Waters in 2021. (Photos: Anthony and Nick Bogdanovich)

Some artists use paint brushes or cameras to transport viewers to far away fantasies. Anthony Bogdanovich, general manager of Harbor City-based California Outdoor Lighting, uses light.

Referring to himself as a “classic landscape lighting guy,” Bogdanovich’s bread and butter had always been low voltage, white lighting fixtures for residences and commercial properties. But in 2020, Bogdanovich signed on to a project that challenged what he was used to.

He and his team of five were tasked with creating a first-ever major nighttime event for the South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes Estates, California. No simple fixtures. No colorless light. No permanent displays.

This unique holiday lighting project would need to glow. And Glow, the acronym given to the now two-year installation standing for Garden Lights & Ocean Waters, it did.

Glow’s dawning light

Anthony Bogdanovich of California Outdoor Lighting describes Glow, his two-time lighting transformation of South Coast Botanic Garden.
The gazebo at South Botanic Garden is backlit in color in 2021.

In 2020, Bogdanovich was approached by a good friend of his, the chief financial officer of the South Coast Botanic Garden. She posed a question to Bogdanovich, asking if California Outdoor Lighting would be interested in a first-ever nighttime project in the garden’s 60 years.

Never opposed to expanding his lighting horizons, Bogdanovich agreed.

“We have a great eye for lighting spaces and establishing balance and cohesion, but this was a little bit different,” Bogdanovich says. “We had to make sure we could capture everybody’s eye invitingly.”

The first step of the project was meeting the garden’s request for an overarching theme. He realized the installation’s theme was right in front of him, crashing onto the golden sand in turquoise ripples.

“Everybody around this area, we’re all drawn to the ocean,” Bogdanovich says. “I just thought water would be a great theme for our local community.”

Despite both years of Glow going on display during the winter holiday season, Bogdanovich envisioned a winter wonderland beyond red and green string lights. Instead, he saw one that connected to the greenery it adorned.

“Lighting is an art, so we wanted to display it as that,” Bogdanovich says. “You go to the garden during the daytime, and it’s so peaceful and serene. But what we wanted to do was actually show the garden for what it was.”

The first Glow

Through a combined effort of the garden and lighting company staff, the brains behind the first Glow sought out-of-the-box ways to reimagine about 20 of the garden’s 88 acres.

Bogdanovich explains that no idea, no matter how far-fetched, was shot down. This resulted in the creation of various watery themes and color palettes for different sections of the garden, all paired with specially selected music. Upon completion, the team used 1,200 to 1,300 low-voltage fixtures.

“When you can look at a space and think like a kid again, I think that’s what made it more special,” he says. “We had no constraints on our creativity.”

Bogdanovich and his team sought to push the boundary of what light could do. Using special effect fixtures and electronics, once stagnant lights could be made into dynamic, free-flowing entities.

At the core of the team’s design was color, taking Bogdanovich out of his white light comfort zone. He learned how certain colors could highlight certain greenery and bark and how certain hues could look completely different depending on a plant’s lightness or darkness.

Anthony Bogdanovich of California Outdoor Lighting describes Glow, his two-time lighting transformation of South Coast Botanic Garden.
Left: Glowing orbs illuminate the plant life in the Bubble Promenade. Right: Anthony Bogdanovich, the general manager and lead designer of California Outdoor Lighting, enjoys a moment of fun while installing two of the 110 varied size spheres for Glow’s Bubble Promenade during the holiday lighting installation’s second edition in 2021.

“Doing things with color for the first time, especially at this scale, was an eye-opener,” Bogdanovich says. “A lot of it was done by trial and error. We had an idea of what we wanted to do, and sometimes as were setting something up, we’d change the colors because of the way it looked on certain specimens.”

Using new recipes of light and color, the team devised themes like coral reefs, rivers and sea life.

Bogdanovich’s favorite section was the banyan grove, home to the garden’s extensive collection of Moreton Bay fig trees. The lighting team bathed it in vibrant blue and green lighting, concocting cyan, azure, emerald and lime tints when the lighting mixed. Using white-colored string lights with a chasing effect, Bogdanovich and his team crafted imitation rainfall with a wintery feel. Fast-paced classical music echoed along the trees’ twisting root systems and into their leafy foliage above.

“We wanted to really create an impact,” Bogdanovich says.

The installation process

Designing a fantastical garden, setting the perimeter of the lighting and making sure everything was navigable were the easy parts, Bogdanovich says. The aspects that were outside of the six-person lighting team’s wheelhouse primarily in the installation process brought the real challenges.

Logistically, the project took a lot of service hours, thought, energy and teamwork, he says. One of the greatest difficulties was working with the garden’s outdated electrical infrastructure, which left certain areas of the outdoor space without any power. California Outdoor Lighting brought in generators to provide supplementary power and learned how to balance loads between generators and transformers.

Bogdanovich says it took the group some time to figure out how to light the larger plants, like some of the garden’s 100-foot pine trees. For the taller specimens, the team used a grazing technique, setting lights on the outskirts.

Anthony Bogdanovich of California Outdoor Lighting describes Glow, his two-time lighting transformation of South Coast Botanic Garden.
Top left: The River uses overhead poles with lights and wave washers to create a river, guiding attendees of the first Glow through the garden. Top right: Using projection mapping for the first time, California Outdoor Lighting creates a psychedelic look in one of the garden’s many sections in 2021. Bottom: Named “Fireflies in the Living Wall,” Anthony Bogdanovich and his team used twinkling LEDs installed in a leafy wall to devise a warm, firefly-like effect.

Safety was also a top concern, as Bogdanovich says that the garden is completely dark without any lighting. They highlighted certain specimens that led attendees through certain areas and walkways so it was clear where the path was.

“There was a lot of thought put in light placement,” Bogdanovich says.

To define a walkway across a 700-foot dirt road, California Outdoor Lighting coupled overhead poles with lights and wave washers, fashioning what looked like a flowing river cascading down the path. Tracing the artificial river, trees were coated with different colored lights, and hedges were embellished with blinking LED lamps to establish a firefly effect.

Another point of focus for the lighting team was to make the installation temporary. This process also balanced safety and ways to limit visibility of wiring.

They installed nearly nine miles of low-voltage cable and placed wiring in backside planters to keep them out of view. Wiring placed in trees was pinned, and wiring that crossed walkways in certain sections was buried.

“It wasn’t meant to be a completely clean look; it’s more about what you’re trying to light,” Bogdanovich says. “For anything of this caliber, there are going to be some visual aspects that we wouldn’t have on a permanent installation, but we needed to make sure that we had a functional system that was safe.”

To protect the installations from L.A.’s occasional wintery rains, California Outdoor Lighting made enclosures to protect its electrical equipment. They also made sure to keep tarps on hand just in case everything needed to be covered.

“We took a lot of precautions to make sure that the equipment was protected, but also that it wouldn’t cause any damage to any of the specimens or the plant life.”

Glow 1.0 to Glow 2.0

Despite running into some late-in-the-game complications with individually addressable LED lamps, it took the six-person lighting team about a month to complete Glow’s first installation. It opened to the public, rain or shine, from Nov. 21, 2020, to Jan. 13, 2021.

“We came in by the skin of our teeth, but at the same time, it ran phenomenally well,” Bogdanovich says. “We had very minor glitches throughout the entire run of the program both years.”

Being that it was open during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, attendee numbers were limited, guests had to follow safety measures and ticket purchases were required.

“What we wanted Glow to accomplish more than everything else was to bring people together at a time where everybody was getting pushed apart,” Bogdanovich says. “That was a big inspiration for us, just to have people feel like life is normal again.”

Anthony Bogdanovich of California Outdoor Lighting describes Glow, his two-time lighting transformation of South Coast Botanic Garden.
Left: Edward Sanchez and Dinnay Seung, former lighting technicians with California Outdoor Lighting, construct decor for Glow’s second year in 2021. Right: Mike Holland, former lead technician with California Outdoor Lighting, prepares an octopus made up of pink lights for Glow’s first year in 2020.

Thrilled with the turnout, South Coast Botanic Garden asked California Outdoor Lighting back for a second year, fully giving Bogdanovich and his team creative rein on design and music selection.

Completely redesigned and elevated, this most recent Glow, open from Nov. 20, 2021, to Jan. 17, 2022, spanned about 30 acres with 2,400 low-voltage fixtures, 10 miles of holiday lights, individually addressable LED-lit scenes, 11 projectors, 60 transformers and 10 different zones of music, as well as bar and food service.

“Because this first year was so successful, we wanted to add some additional emphasis,” Bogdanovich says.

The team brought in projection mapping across the garden, something completely new to the lighting professionals. In the desert garden, they used projection mapping to develop a psychedelic look with bouncing orbs as music from Pink Floyd and Carlos Santana circled around cacti and agaves.

Lining the entrance coming down the promenade were bubble machines, plants splashed in rich hues and 110 glowing, color-changing spheres of varied size.

The banyan grove received a warm tone makeover, illuminating the trees in swathes of scarlet and amber. Using three structures the team built combined with projection screens and wave washers, the lighting team forged three waterfalls. Paired with the acoustic melody of “Autumn Leaves,” the banyan grove emitted a springtime vibe.

A crown jewel of Glow’s second year was a rainbow effect able to be seen across the garden. This was completed to solve the lighting team’s concerns about mixing too much color. By using additional fixtures with more narrow beam spreads, it allowed for separation between the color, concocting a flurry of rainbows.

“It made us step out of our comfort zone a little bit and just made us more excited for all the different aspects of lighting that we can actually use,” Bogdanovich says.

Glow’s never-ending light

For Bogdanovich, Glow was more than just a holiday lighting display. It was where he saw fathers twirl their giggling daughters and nervous boyfriends get to one knee. Beneath the shimmering lights that he and his team spent months preparing, attendees could enjoy the garden without the worries of the outside world.

“This project means so much to me in so many different ways,” Bogdanovich says. “This opportunity goes well beyond just creating lighting scenes; we created something that people could truly feel.”

Carrying the success of Glow’s two years, Bogdanovich says that a third Glow could be in the cards. If it does make its return, he wants to incorporate more interactive pieces to get visitors more involved with the lighting.

“There’s still a lot of discussions that need to be had,” Bogdanovich says. “But we really are hopeful that we’re going to have the opportunity to create something spectacular again this year.”

McKenna Corson is the digital content editor for Irrigation & Lighting and can be reached via email.

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