The making of Glow Wild 2020 Behind-the-scenes with the volunteers and local groups creating lanterns for Sussex’ iconic illuminated trail

Glow Wild runs on select evenings, Thursday 3 December 2020 – Sunday 3 January 2021 New post-lockdown dates for Wakehurst’s Christmas trail, Early switch-on for the UK’s tallest living Christmas tree, Preview of this year’s hero lanterns created by community groups, At home with volunteers making the 1000+ extra lanterns placed along the trail.

Known for its spellbinding trail of glowing lanterns, illuminated sculptures, soundscapes and projections, Glow Wild is set to return for the seventh year to light up Wakehurst’s wild landscape.


At the heart of this magical experience are the 1000+ lanterns made and repaired by hand by Wakehurst staff, volunteers, and local community groups. This is no mean feat, and it takes over 600 hours to ensure the lanterns are shipshape and ready to be installed along the trail.

This year, given lockdown restrictions in England throughout November, the start date of Glow Wild has been pushed back. However, because we could all do will a little seasonal cheer, Wakehurst has decided to keep the big ‘switch-on’ of the UK’s tallest living Christmas tree on 26 November as originally planned, so that visitors can enjoy some early festivities.

Working with our community

At the heart of Glow Wild is a belief in creating and enjoying artwork together. Visitors to the trail form part of the installations with the individual lanterns they carry around, and – from the very beginning of Glow Wild – Wakehurst has worked with award-winning, Brighton-based community arts charity, Same Sky, to host a lantern-making outreach programme. This programme has been developed to allow Wakehurst to share its knowledge and expertise with others in the community, meet people who come to the trail, and enable them to help to create the artwork for the displays.

This year, Same Sky visited five different groups to provide lantern making workshops and share some creative inspiration. The groups generously sharing their time and skills to each create a showstopping lantern, themed on the seeds and fruits of trees, include:

The Reigate School of Art (Acorn lantern)
Brighton Aldridge Community Academy art club (Conker lantern)
Manor Green College, Crawley (Hazelnut lantern)
Artist Michelle Dufar & online community (Beech seed pod lantern)
Reigate school for young people with special needs (Sycamore key lantern)
Acorn lantern 

Students at the Reigate School of Art, part of East Surrey College in Redhill, got enthusiastically stuck in to making their lantern, and were able to make use of their spacious Winter Garden area as a shared studio. When asked about the project, the students commented on how much fun they had taking part; that they enjoyed working on a project for a positive cause; and felt that making the lanterns gave them a great idea of what it will be like to work on projects in their future careers.

John Varah, Artistic Director of Same Sky said: “This is a great community project, as all the pieces will work together as a set. When working with a group like this, we know we can leave the students to get on with their individual projects and create something. Everyone is creative, and we can’t do it alone, and so projects like this help to bring out the creative side in everyone – the part of our brain that keeps us happy.”

Beech seed pod lantern

Michelle Dufar, a freelance artist for Same Sky, has worked on Glow Wild for six years, and this year has built a giant beech seed pod lantern for the trail. To overcome the challenges presented by Covid-19, this year Michelle has been inviting the social media community to contribute virtually to the project. She is asking people to share an image of what they have appreciated this year and would choose to pass on into next. These images will be transferred into silhouettes and used to decorate the pod. So far, Michelle has received images of people’s family members and habits picked up during lockdown, including photos from year 8 & 9 students at Rodean School in Brighton.

Michelle says: “The idea behind this year’s decoration was inspired by ‘Lesson of the Beech’ from a book by Jane Gifford, ‘The Wisdom of the Trees’: “Year in and year out, the beech tree reminds us of the importance of learning and of the need to preserve our knowledge… for the benefit of generations to come.” The Beech symbolises learning and understanding, sustenance and preservation.”

Helping hands of Wakehurst volunteers

Starting in spring, Wakehurst’s team of volunteers performs the huge task every year of preparing over 1,000 lanterns of different shapes and sizes that appear along the winter trail. The lanterns are crafted from willow and paper. Making them is a delicate task, involving soaking the willow, bending it into shape, securing the structure and finally papering. The volunteers also help clean and repair lanterns from previous years to recycle and reuse as much as possible.

This year, artist Sarah Hall led workshops for Wakehurst volunteers to create 30 fungi lanterns which will form a fairy ring as part of the installation in the Winter Garden. The workshops are usually very hands-on and involve pair work and shared equipment, but Sarah was able to adapt her teaching methods to overcome the challenges of Covid-19 restrictions to ensure a safe workspace. She said: “The hot weather in August made it ideal to have all the doors and windows open where possible to maximise ventilation and drying of the lanterns. All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience in a relaxed and airy environment.”

For those unable to attend workshops, volunteers have been getting thoroughly stuck in at home – using a specially assembled lantern-making toolbox sent in the post – to help deliver a magical evening for everyone. Wakehurst volunteer, Melanie Hodge, created lanterns from her very organised home set up, featuring a super-sized paddling pool for soaking the willow, and bending it through the perfectly placed gaps in her old garden table.

What we are doing to keep visitors safe 

We are adhering to government advice on coronavirus to ensure visitors and staff remain safe while enjoying their time at Wakehurst. Ensuring all visitors pre-book timed entry slots to the Gardens will enable us to stagger the entry flow, avoid queues and reduce contact.

Toilet facilities will undergo stringent cleaning throughout the day, and there are hand washing stations at each gate and key locations. Lanterns along the trail will act as distance markers at potential crunch points throughout the gardens, and we will continue to operate cashless systems at our shop and catering pop-ups across the site.

The Glow Wild trail will operate as a one-way system with extra staff on hand to monitor attendance and flow.