Guest rant: I love the lightlife


Here are fellow writer and gardener Ron Ehmke’s thoughts on holiday lighting as installation art—Eliz

This is the photo I’ve been promising Elizabeth, that she in turn has been promising to share with GR readers:


Turns out it’s just as hard to photograph an over-the-top lighting display as it is to shoot an elaborate garden, so you’ll have to trust me when I say that photos don’t quite do this monster justice. Same problem with this beauty, located at the end of my block:


In this case, for instance, you cannot sense the stroboscopic effects or the synchronized aspects, and you cannot hear the accompanying music broadcast on Christmas Eve.

I haven’t actually been to this house in Holland, NY but I’ve seen it on local TV, and any home display that merits its own website and DVD is gonna catch my eye. If you missed my link to it in a comment on one of Susan’s recent posts, here’s another shout-out to an absurdly ambitious four-home collaboration in Ontario that can only be described as an interactive digital art project.

And that’s where I’m heading with all this: as I’ve noted elsewhere, I really do see holiday light displays as one of the few occasions when average citizens—people who don’t otherwise consider themselves “creative”—feel empowered to think and act like artists. Gardening, it occurs to me more and more, is another such opportunity, and it makes sense that many gardening centers raise extra income in the winter by hawking Christmas decorations. True, the possibilities for garishness and mindless consumerism are endless in both cases, but the same is true of capital-A art, too. (For the record, the examples of excess I’ve cited above just happened to be handy; I have no way to document the beauty I saw last night, in which the façade of a house and its surrounding landscaping were entirely bathed in two shades of blue LEDs, giving the home a dreamy, surreal glow that clearly bore the mark of a thoughtful designer—not so far, I’d suggest, from the work of an artist like Dan Flavin.)

Yes, excess electricity use is a bad thing, and I applaud people actively seeking creative alternatives. (Most of the homes above are moving to LEDs, I see. I’m still not convinced their appeal won’t fade along with most other mass-market trends, but if nothing else they expand the available palette in interesting ways.) As another GR commenter has pointed out, this is a time of year when we Northerners can use all the light we can get, whether from displays, candles, or fireplaces, and light is as promising a medium as greenery is in the summer. Shine on!

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I’m guilty of having visited Baltimore’s Miracle on 34th Street strip of fantastically lit up rowhouses last night.
    I’d much rather see a group of people in each town get together and do one big display like these than 5 million people have a couple spindly strands around their balcony sliding glass doors looking kinda lost and lonely in the dark.
    Personally, I think we garden folk have much bigger enviro fish to fry – specificially those heinous gas-powered lawn equipment and leaf-blowers!

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