John Garner Interview

North Carolina Press Release
A 2018 interview with Mark Weathington, Director of JC Raulston Arboretum
by Robert B. Butler

How would you describe Moonlight in the Garden?

"Moonlight in the Garden is a huge lighting exhibition at North Carolina State University’s JC Raulston Arboretum and botanical garden. It's a rare opportunity for the family to visit the Arboretum after dark and see how trees and gardens can be illuminated for activities using the latest technologies on the market. It only happens once a year, so it's a very limited opportunity to see the Arboretum in a new light. Proceeds benefit the Arboretum."

When will Moonlight in the Garden debut and for how many nights?

"Moonlight in the Garden is scheduled for two weekends in early November for a total of six nights. With limited capacity each evening and only six nights, families and individuals should go online and book their tickets early. We expect a sellout in 2018." "We’ll have two additional nights for professional members of the community, including landscape architects, lighting designers, architects, engineers, and other related parties. Continuing education credits will be provided by the NC Board of Landscape Architects to participating landscape architects."

When do you begin planning and designing Moonlight in the Garden and what is involved?

"We start talking and planning about six-months in advance. We fine tune displays and do something different every year."

"We use over five miles of cable powered by over 20 transformers to showcase the latest and best available lighting technologies. The list includes color changing systems, moonlighting trees, interactive multi-circuit zones, smart phone controls, and more. There are some surprises this season playing with shadows and motion in the garden and that sort of thing. Including Southern Lights, we have about 15-20 suppliers. Our suppliers are very generous with their donations to support the Arboretum."

"The Kelly Francis illumination fireflies are now permanently installed at the entrance of the Arboretum, and we expect stone artisan Bob Simchock to return this year and share some of his stone light creations."

"An interesting side note, using the latest illumination technologies, illumination power consumption has been reduced about 90-percent over the past 20-years."

Is outdoor lighting an art form? And, do you consider yourself to be an artist?

"There's definitely an artistic element to lighting. I've never really considered myself an artist in the sense of having showings in museums. But you can create a whole new environment with light, and it does definitely take an artistic flair to get it right."

"A well-designed lighting application creates mood, comfort, and functionality, bringing landscapes to life and creating a pleasant, livable, and more usable space for inhabitants."

What is your favorite exhibit at Moonlight?

"My favorite exhibit is the area that we call Moonlight in the Garden. It's where you walk from the Japanese garden into the Asian Valley behind. The moonlight changes from a warm color to a cool moonlight from above that's filtered through the limbs of the trees. It's just a complete change of feeling of mood as you go through there. I've often wanted to play the theme from Twilight Zone, as it feels you are traveling in a portal from one world into another. So that's my favorite."

Tell us about some of the unique plants on display and how the lighting changes their character and their personality.

"We try to light each tree and plant to its best advantage by respecting its form. There's the Weeping Walk, the walkway entering the Arboretum leading to the Great Lawn. Some of these trees are best shown lit from the inside highlighting the trunks. Others are the best lit from the perimeter where it highlights the outer canopies. Still others are best cross lit while others from above. We use all different techniques to highlight the various trees and plants. There are wonderful specimens of large trees and Japanese maples that are just a real treat to put in a new light, if you will. That's one of the pleasures of doing this, having the opportunity to play and create in a garden of this caliber. It's a really neat place."

Do children enjoy Moonlight in the Garden?

"Absolutely. People of all ages love lighting exhibitions. Additionally, there are plenty of activities for children, including the firefly making session, spinning shadows, marshmallow roasting, food trucks, music, and more."

Is Moonlight in the Garden of good teaching moment, a good outing for children and their families?

"A key concept of Moonlight in the Garden is introducing children and families to thousands of plants at nighttime, showing how nature can be illuminated, providing ideas people can use with plants in their own gardens, large or small. The Arboretum is set up like a park and has many display gardens. This is a wonderful educational experience for children and parents."

What other activities are on the schedule for Moonlight in the Garden?

"Moonlight in the Garden provides a backdrop and a setting for the activities that are offered. There's a different band every night, gourmet food trucks, marshmallow roasting, hot apple cider, and lots of activities for the children."

Why do you take on such a monumental project?

"Moonlight in the Garden is a great way to educate the public about trees, gardens, and how plants interact with our lives, both day and night. Nature brings joy to life and illumination at night reveals new dimensions of nature."

"The Arboretum helps the people of North Carolina and the landscape industry with information, education, and the products they help to provide. I feel good about helping the Arboretum."

Thank you for your time, John.

This interview with John Garner may be republished in whole or part without attribution.