You have almost a month left to visit the Norfolk Botanical Garden and see LanternAsia: “Art by day, Magic at night.”
Do not miss it. More than two dozen Chinese artisans worked from late January through February to create 30 illuminated, colossal works of art from steel, silk, and other surprising materials in the 175 acres of the garden.
The Lantern Festival, an ancient Chinese tradition dating back more than 2,000 years, will be on display at the Norfolk Botanical Garden from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily through April 30.
*Editor’s note this exhibit has been extended through this Sunday, Mother’s Day.
You might be wondering if you should go in the day or at night. Lucky me. I went on a beautiful cool, sunny morning and on a windy, warm night this week. Here are my tips for Lantern Asia, by day or by night.
Art by Day
If you are a member of the Norfolk Botanical Garden–and you should be–LanternAsia is free for you every day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Botanical Garden is my personal happy place. I became a member the first time I visited.
It is a beautiful place, with something blooming at every time of the year. They offer all kinds of classes and tours, at special membership rates. My grandchildren beg to go. They love the WOW Children’s Garden and that great big sand pile.
I took four-year old Joe and six-year old Alice to LanternAsia at 9:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. They’ve been to the Garden many times and were hoping the water fountains in the WOW Garden were open. It was still too chilly for that, but they loved LanternAsia. Joe’s words: “super awesome.” Alice was a bit more thoughtful: “How did they do that?” There is a four-story pagoda, made of more than a million pieces of blue and white porcelain dinnerware that is spectacular. By day, you can see how all these pieces are carefully wired together.
They were lots of “Please do not touch” signs, but you can get up close to these seemingly fragile but surprisingly sturdy works of art. Kids love them. There are all kinds of animals – life-size elephants, tigers, cheetahs and flamingos. There are giant dragons, peacocks, butterflies, insects and lots more. We had long discussions about how they were made, what they were made of, and how long it took. We are still talking about it. They had never seen anything like it in their young lives. Me neither, and I am whole lot older.
You walk through the LanternAsia exhibit, so if you have really small kids, don’t forget your stroller. Joe and Alice had no trouble walking through the whole garden. There is something exciting to see tucked around every corner. The Garden also has a tram go all around once an hour and a special tram tour of LanternAsia every day at 2:00, no extra charge.
You can bring a picnic and/or snacks into the Norfolk Botanical Garden. There are picnic tables, but you can spread a blanket out almost anywhere in the Garden. Our favorite spot is on top of the hill, overlooking the Norfolk International Airport. Joe likes to watch the planes taking off and land. Alice likes to roll down the hill.
One more advantage to visiting LanternAisa by day – the Garden is beautiful this time of year. The cherry trees are in full bloom. There are daffodils everywhere. The colorful silks of these giant works of art just pop against the bright greens of the Garden.
Magic by Night
I went back to the Norfolk Botanical Garden on a Friday night, with my two older granddaughers, nine-year old Catherine and seven-year old Rachel. I was a little worried that the little ones wouldn’t last past their 8:00 p.m. bedtime, although we saw lots of families with young children. Even the youngest were entranced with the spectacle of it all. It really is magical.
At night, LanternAsia comes alive. It all lights up and the silks are even more colorful. There is a 200 foot dragon, the size of five school buses, that glows orange and flashes with changing colors. There are gardens of larger-than-life tulips, lilies, and fantasy flowers that make you feel like Alice in Wonderland. You will walk through a corridor of surreal crescent moons. Rachel, who loves to paint and draw, said, “It’s so pretty, I can hardly stand it.”
The Lanterns move and sparkle at night. It was blustery the night we visited and the rainbow of flower lanterns hanging over the bridge were swinging back and forth while Chinese music was playing in the background. Catherine was fascinated with the swaying towers of the Taj Mahal that were anchored with wires and securely fastened in place. There are panda lanterns that swing, rock, and teeter-tooter on a panda playground. There is some kind of beautiful Mandarin duck that floats round and round in the pond.
You can bring a picnic dinner into the Garden at night. There is also a food truck, more than one on the weekends, and a nice little picnic area with tables and chairs next to the parking lot. I’m all about the grandchildren, but LanternAsia would be a very romantic and unique spot for a date. I saw quite a few couples strolling in, hand and hand, as I was leaving with the grandkids on Friday night.
Don’t forget your camera. Photographers will love the challenge at night. The Norfolk Botanical Garden welcomes your photos, day or night – #LanternAsia and share them with everyone.