Visitors to Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs are invited to stop by the North Pole before they step outside to see the 15th annual Holiday Lights display, which is set up throughout the botanical gardens.
Thanks to the generosity of Hot Springs resident Dianne House, an exhibit of Department 56 North Pole Village buildings, characters and accessories is set up in the Magnolia Room of the Pratt Welcome Center. House donated 40 pieces from her North Pole and North Pole Elfland collections last year to Garvan Woodland Gardens, along with 30 accessory pieces. These were set up last year, but the display has grown with the recent donation of even more pieces.
The exhibit, which is sponsored by Triumph Airborne Structure, is set up as a large Christmas tree with village scenes on several levels.
“This is a nice addition to our holiday display,” said Susan Harper, director of volunteers. “We used an old frame in the shape of a Christmas tree that once held poinsettias to make the frame for these pieces.
“It literally took a village to put it together,” Harper said, laughing. “We used 16 bags of artificial snow, as well, to create the exhibit.”
House, who did not see the display after it was set up last year, recently made a visit to see this year’s exhibit.
“It is gorgeous,” she said.
“It is much more impressive in person,” she told Harper. “I am so thrilled you are able to share this with people.
“I’ve always been a collector,” House said. “Department 56 first came out with the Dickens Village and then the North Pole Series. I was always attracted to the [Dickens] Village, but when they came out with the North Pole Series, I thought it was special and wanted to collect it. I think I started with Santa’s North Pole Workshop and the Elf Bunkhouse.”
House said she has kept some of the first North Pole Series pieces she collected but has donated the majority of her collection to Garvan Woodland Gardens.
Among the North Pole and Elfland pieces featured in the display are The Elf Spa, the Elfin Snow Cone Works, Santa’s Lookout Tower, the North Pole Chapel, the Real Plastic Snow Factory, the Mini-Donut Shop, the LEGO Building Creation Station, The Egg Nog Pub, Reindeer Flight School and the Tin Soldier Shop.
“The LEGO house is sure to be a favorite with the kids,” Harper said, adding that the exhibit will remain on display through Dec. 31.
House said she began collecting pieces of the North Pole Village in the early ’90s.
“But I no longer have kids at home, so I don’t have much incentive to display all of this,” she said. “I am glad to have found a place where they can be seen and enjoyed by other people.”
House graduated from Lakeside High School and attended Henderson State University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1973. She retired in 2009 as a supervisor and field auditor after 35 years with the Arkansas Department of Finance Administration.
Harper said she plans to make the North Pole Village an annual part of the gardens’ holiday decorations.
The Holiday Lights event is open 5-9 p.m. daily through Dec. 31; the garden gates open at 3. Garvan Woodland Gardens will be closed Christmas day.
Harper said Friday and Saturday nights are typically very crowded.
“Come during the week if you can,” she said, smiling.
Tickets to the Holiday Lights event are $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 4 to 12. Children ages 3 and younger are admitted free. No dogs are allowed at the event. Golf-cart tours cost an additional $15 per person and cannot be reserved. Parking is free.
Garvan Woodland Gardens was founded by the late Verna Cook Garvan. Upon her death in 1993, the property was bequeathed to the University of Arkansas Department of Landscape Architecture through the University of Arkansas Foundation. Garvan Woodland Gardens is now an independent department of the university’s Fay Jones School of Architecture.
For more information on Garvan Woodland Gardens and its holiday display, call (501) 262-9300 or (800) 366-4664.
Information is also available online at garvangardens.org and on Facebook.