An enchanting trail of light with Christmas shopping and entertainment on-site
RHS Garden Rosemoor is a public display garden run by the Royal Horticultural Society in North Devon. It has traditionally hosted Christmas markets in December, but for the last two years has added to the festive magic by illuminating much of its spectacular 65 acres and opening a night time guided trail. We talk to team member Richard Mulford.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts
Rosemoor’s Glow is a magical illuminations trail set against the dramatic backdrop of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) garden in winter. Dynamic, colour changing lights illuminate the trees, shrubs and a number of sculptures from our annual Winter Sculpture Exhibition. Last year, over just 21 evenings it attracted some 13,000 visitors. This year, the trail has been greatly extended as well as increasing the number of days to 23, and we could get around 20,000 visitors.
Running at the same time as Glow, on selected dates, are added value events such as the Christmas food and craft fairs, an antiques fair and children’s entertainment.
What is the event’s history and what made you decide to run it?
The event is solely done in-house with the installation created by our facilities team. This will be its second year and follows really positive feedback at last year’s inaugural event. The shoulder months were previously a quiet period for Rosemoor visitors. Many people don’t realise that not only is Rosemoor open every day except Christmas day, but the garden in winter is still a wonderful place to visit with surprising amounts of colour, scent, great textures and amazing structure (trees and shrubs).
There are very few illuminations events in the South West and by investing in equipment and infrastructure (as opposed to hiring) we could grow the event each year and inspire everyone to visit the garden in the winter.
Rosemoor has always run extra events in the run up to Christmas. We continue to do so with the crafts, antiques and food fairs to create a full day out experience for visitors, and to give a fabulous festive ‘Christmas market’ feel to Glow.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
The layout has been planned to take account of the budget available and to maximise the effects of the illuminations on the natural structures of trees and shrubs. We have been careful to highlight the interesting textures such as peeling bark and ornamental grasses, and the shapes created by the framework of branches.
In addition, we have strategically positioned the man-made sculptures from our Winter Sculpture Exhibition to provide a contrast. The trail takes visitors along hard pathways to ensure no trip hazards but also to take new visitors to key areas of the garden in winter.
The other events are held in a permanent events building – The Garden Room – which was opened in May 2017. For around eight years prior to this a permanent large marquee was used. The events team together with the facilities team plan the layout and put out tables, chairs and staging as necessary.
How did you research and source your infrastructure and facilities?
All catering is in-house, including an alfresco catering facility for hot drinks and snacks while on the trail in the form of a traditional shepherd’s hut, plus a pop-up catering facility near our Visitor Centre. We also have a fully licensed main restaurant offering great value two-course meals.
What entertainment do you offer and how did you choose and source it?
On the launch nights we had fire jugglers, then on subsequent weekends there are craft, food and antiques fairs, and children’s entertainers performing interactive theatre. In addition, there are local school choirs on one evening and late night shopping every night of Glow. Our events team source all the additional entertainment. On our final night we have a theatre company performing the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Most of the entertainment has come to us through existing contacts.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
Light and power is provided through investment in the infrastructure of power cables buried in the ground.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
Paying admissions can be booked online in advance or on the gate on the day. 80% of our visitors are members who have free admission which can result in a difficulty of gauging numbers. However, the restaurant two-course simple evening meals are bookable in advance which helps to manage and understand likely footfall for each evening. The garden is open during the day and safety is managed by roping off areas at dusk with fairy lights to ensure all visitors stay on the pathways.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
Some areas of the garden are roped off but high tramp areas, such as near our shepherd’s hut catering facility, are protected by permanent rubber matting. The car parks are all hard surfaced.
How do you publicise the event?
A comprehensive integrated website, PR and advertising in newspapers and magazines, digital media, outdoor banners and a Facebook campaign across the region.
What challenges have you faced?
Restraining the growth of the event to a restricted budget and extending the event gradually. Installation has to be carefully planned within the context of a working garden where hedges and grass areas need trimming and cutting.
How profitable is the event?
The event’s first two years have seen a significant investment so that real profit will be generated in later years.
What are your plans for next year?
Once again the trail will be extended to include waterways such as our lake and stream for the first time where reflections and movement will bring a new dimension.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We have a large permanent venue together with nine other locations in the garden and offer illuminated wedding ceremonies and receptions. Additionally on site we have three luxury self catering accommodation units to provide a longer experience.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
Be prepared to think about the long term and build the event year on year so that you can listen to feedback from visitors rather than trying to be the biggest and best in year one.
Purchased from Tectonics UK www.tectonicsuk.co.uk
Entertainingly Different www.entertaininglydifferent.com
RHS Garden Rosemoor
Torrington, EX38 8PH