Behind the scenes of Arboretum’s holiday décor

The highlight of the Arboretum’s decorations this year is a 20-foot tall poinsettia tree. Submitted photo

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Oswald Visitor Center is all decked out in holiday trimmings for the arboretum’s annual Making Spirits Bright holiday season of merriment, music and make-believe.

The highlight in the Visitor Center’s spacious Great Hall, with its soaring timber beams, is a 20-foot live poinsettia tree surrounded by four 12-foot seed sculptures depicting seasonal images — Santa Claus, snowman, candy cane and a dreidel (for Hanukkah). Seasonal greenery, garlands, wreaths and reams of red ribbon complete the festive picture. In the Visitor Center balcony area and restaurant, visitors will discover a peppermint forest and candy-themed decor.

This holiday splash is the result of hundreds of volunteer and staff work hours, thousands of seeds, miles of ribbon and … not to mention coffee filters and paper plates! The lovely setting provides a backdrop for weekend offerings such as live holiday music, storytimes, visits with Santa, kids’ holiday shopping and more. (visit www.arboretum.umn.edu for details.)

Here are random facts about the poinsettia tree:

• The Poinsettia Tree is made up of a total of 575 live poinsettias, mainly red ones with a few white ones for accent. The poinsettias were grown and donated by Bachman’s.

• The watering of the Poinsettia Tree is based on a drip irrigation system. There are 20 levels of bands/metal rings making up the tree framework. The tree is made up of five zones, each comprising four levels. Each plant is held by a metal ring.

• There is a drip line that is attached to a round 3/4-inch line behind each band/metal ring that holds the plant holders. Those lines are used to feed and water each level.

• At the base of the tree is a manifold that allows us to water each zone separately and one zone at a time. There is a large drip pan around the base of the tree to catch any excess water.

• It took 60 hours to make the metal frame for the tree. The drip pan was made by Victoria Welding. The rest of the system was built by Arboretum staff including Bob Thorn, Gary Gerzema and Clark Alsleben.

• The Poinsettia Tree is watered roughly every other day.

About the Seed Sculptures:

• Each sculpture framework is created from chicken wire and wood, covered with old-fashioned papier mache (flour & water and recycled newspapers).

• Thousands of seeds and grains — from sunflower and safflower seeds to oats, corn, wheat and soybeans — were painstakingly applied by volunteers and staff.

• Because of the size of the sculptures, the workers often had to sit in elevated cranes or stand on stepladders to apply the seeds. The larger seeds had to be applied one by one — an exhausting process. We had lots of volunteer help, including some local youth groups.

• The seeds were applied using over five gallons of glue.

Other interesting details:

• Up on the balcony of the Visitor Center, in the area visited by Santa Claus every weekend, visitors will see lovely, petite white trees, part of the peppermint forest. Some are made from tulle and others are made from coffee filters, all crinkled up!

• The Restaurant is decorated in a “candy” theme with real candy dangling from the lights, large lollipops and a secret hideaway. The large candies near the windows are made from paper plates wrapped in bright cellophane paper.

Making Spirits Bright runs now through Dec. 31. On weekends, visitors can enjoy live music from local choral/instrumental groups, storytimes, photos with Santa and a kids-only holiday shop.

For details, visit www.arboretum.umn.edu.

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