More than 40 decorated and lighted Christmas trees are on display as part of the Sixth Annual Christmas Stroll at Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center in Orange, including this tree by the Friends of the Orange Depot which is decorated with trains and tracks and a conductor’s hat for a topper. RECORD PHOTO: Tommy Mann Jr. 

Tommy Mann Jr. – For The Record

Decorative trees, bright lights, cool weather and hot chocolate will make Shangri La the place to be for several nights this holiday season.

Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, 2111 W. Park Ave. in Orange, will hold its Sixth Annual Christmas Strolls this month. The strolls are from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 10 through Saturday, Dec. 12; Thursday, Dec. 17 through Saturday, Dec. 19; Tuesday, Dec. 22; Wednesday, Dec. 23; and conclude on Saturday, Dec. 26.

Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children, but for guests who bring at least one canned good item to be donated to Orange Christian Services, admission is reduced to half-price. Members are admitted free of charge.

The event has grown each year since it began in 2010. In 2012, a total of 25 trees were on display and 36 were decorated and lit in 2013, and 35 in 2014. This year there are already 41 trees on display and some last minute additions are expected.

“We have over 40 trees on display, and the decorations are just amazing,” said Joseph Johnson, Director of Horticulture at Shangri La. “The trees have been decorated by businesses, churches, some local organizations and even families.”

Johnson said the trees are donated by Kroger, and Shangri La provides one string of lights. The participants are responsible for the creative decorations and there is no lack of imagination on what items are used from toy trains and tracks to plastic bottles to aluminum cans.

“As always, there are thousands of lights throughout Shangri La, but we have enhanced certain areas this year,” Johnson explained. “Each of the four sculpture rooms now have lights, and we have added more snowfall lights throughout the garden. We’ve added several more laser starlights across the garden too because so many people just raved about those last year.”

To get ready for this annual event, Johnson said Shangri La began decorating and preparing the garden at the end of October.

“We actually started getting ready for this during the Scarecrow Festival,” he continued. “And we have well over 1,000 man hours invested, and we still had to rush it this past week to finish. We will probably have to start earlier next year as the Christmas Strolls just seem to get bigger and more popular each year.”

Along with the beautifully lighted trees, there will be holiday displays, more lights and even a life-size Nativity display as you walk to the main garden. The entire complex, including the greenhouses and Children’s Garden, will be decorated for the holiday season and open for viewing. Also, the Garden Store and the Star and Crescent Moon Cafe will be open for guests each night.

Johnson said a surprise feature has been added to the Children’s Garden this year. Although he did not want to spoil the surprise by saying what the feature was, it will help transform the area in a winter wonderland.

“There are so many lights out here for people to see,” he added. “The blue, green and white color scheme is what you see at the entrance, but once you reach the Nativity scene, the colors just explode after that point.”

While all of the lights are LED’s, there is a bit of history to some of the features in the garden.

“The Santa Claus and the reindeer on the Great Lawn has some historical significance because it is much like one Mr. Stark used to have,” Johnson said. “And the ‘Season’s Greetings’ display-sign is one of two the Starks used.”

On Saturday, Dec. 12, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Shangri La invites the public to its “Dreaming of a Green Christmas” event, as the whole family can enjoy the magic of the holiday season. Not only will the main courtyard be decorated with Christmas trees, but the whole complex with be featuring the many wonderful colors of seasonal flowers and decorations.

Children will delight in the Children’s Garden, which will be transformed into “Candyland,” according to information provided by the facility, with a bright, colorful gingerbread house.

Activities include the opportunity to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus from 10 a.m. – noon, in the Classroom Greenhouse; ornament making for families using natural materials, which is open throughout the day, in the Lab; make a holiday wreath workshop, which is designed for adults, from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m., in the Discovery Theater. This class has materials fee of $15 for members and $20 for non-members.

Some events require pre-registration, which can be done by calling 409-670-9113 or by e-mail at info@shangrilagardens.org.

“This is just our sixth year, but the Christmas Strolls have really become a tradition for people,” Johnson said. “It’s a great event for the whole family and a lot of fun. It’s a little different every year, and it just keeps bigger and better. We’re excited for people to see what we have to offer again this year.”