While there's no doubt that Airlie Gardens – the formerly-private botanical showcase purchased by New Hanover County in 1999 – is a treat to visit all year round. Located in Wilmington, the 67-acre site features a walking path, historic structures, picturesque lakes and manicured gardens are enhanced by special programming and exhibits throughout the year. None of which are as magical as Enchanted Airlie, a near month-long holiday celebration that bathes the garden in holiday lights and invokes the Christmas spirit in young and old alike.
According to Janine Powell, director of donor relations, the annual tour was started in 2005 by board members who were eager to find a way for visitors to enjoy the gardens all year, even if the gardens weren't in bloom. In place of blooms, the colorful scene is set by creatively displayed holiday lights. Hardscapes and buildings are draped, electric flowers fill the gardens and holiday scenes are set up, all bathed in the colors of the season.
The addition of food vendors – including hot chocolate – and visits by good old St. Nick make this a family-friendly experience that everyone will enjoy. Each year the display grows and adds something new for visitors to enjoy. Last year that came in the shape of a laser tunnel, which will return in 2018.
The walking tour covers about .5 miles so comfortable walking shoes are encouraged and people should dress appropriate for a winter evening. While trams run during regular tours, they are not in operation during Enchanted Airlie. All paths, however, are wheelchair accessible.
This year's dates include Nov. 23 & 24, Dec. 1 & 2 and then nightly Dec. 7-22. Two tours run each evening, 5-7pm and 7-9pm. Tickets are $30 per carload and must be purchased in advance. They will be available online mid-October.
Don't want to wait for a trip to Airlie? The site holds its popular Oyster Roast from 6-10pm on Friday, Oct. 19, the largest fundraiser held each year. Learn more about it, along with plenty of information about Enchanted Airlie, at airliegardens.org.