For the past several months, Ward-Meade Garden at Old Prairie Town has been quiet as guests have meandered through the garden, taking in the green foliage and blooming flowers.
But what has been missing are the twinkling lights and large luminaries that many associate with Tulips at Twilight and the Tulip Festival — two annual events that were canceled this year because of COVID-19.
Park officials also canceled the annual Apple Festival, which draws a large crowd of people each year eager to watch demonstrations and eat apples.
“Apple Festival is the biggest event that we have here, and we see on a good year between 6,000 and 8,000 visitors throughout the park at that time,” Old Prairie Town recreation program supervisor John Bell said. “We hated to cancel the 41st annual Apple Festival. It is a fall tradition in many people’s schedules and it’s something that they come out here year after year with their friends and family.”
As a way to make up for those losses, Ward-Meade officials have created a new event that will allow for guests to once again experience an illuminating garden with less interaction and more social distancing in mind.
Garden Glow, which takes place from 7-10 p.m. Oct. 2-11, will feature luminaries, lighted displays and seasonal plants.
Admission is $5, and guests are strongly encouraged to abide by Shawnee County’s face mask requirement.
Because of restrictions on mass gatherings, Ward-Meade has limited the number of people allowed inside at any given time to 400, Bell said.
“We will have volunteers at the gate counting, and then once we get to that 400 number, it will be a one in, one out restriction,” Bell said. “In the garden area, the paths are a little smaller and things can get congested, so we are going to have a directional path flow so that everybody will hopefully enter one path and exit another path.”
Garden Glow will feature several large displays similar to what visitors see during Tulips at Twilight.
“This year we had new displays we were unable to put out because of COVID, so nobody has seen a lot of those,” Bell said. “So this will be an opportunity to not only see some of the past favorites but we have some new displays as well.”
Some of the new displays will include butterflies, ladybugs and frogs.
Those visiting during Garden Glow will also be able to see the hundreds of annuals and trees in bloom.
“It’s different in fall because everything is blooming,” Bell said. “In April, it’s pretty much just the tulips.”
Given COVID-19 restrictions, Garden Glow will be the only large event that Old Prairie Town hosts this year, Bell said.
“The community has seen so many big events get canceled due to COVID,” Bell said. “We wanted to give the community something because at this point, I think the citizens need something to see and experience. We’ve had so many subtractions regarding activities and events. We wanted to give them something to put a smile on their face and this is what everybody felt very strongly about.”
Bell said he hopes Garden Glow allows visitors to get out of the house and enjoy Old Prairie Town and Ward-Meade Garden.
“Old Prairie Town and the Ward-Meade Garden has seen tremendous growth over the last five to eight years,” Bell said. “There’s a lot of new gazebos and arbors and new plant material. A lot of that has been done by our wonderful volunteer base. We just want people to come out and enjoy our park, the Old Prairie Town side of the things and the Ward-Meade Botanical Garden.”