NORTH ANDOVER — Winter may be right around the corner, but something is growing in the gardens at the Stevens-Coolidge House.
Unlike the flowers and trees that flourish there for nine months of the year, however, the light show that sprang up two weeks ago is rooted in the imagination, and blossoms only at night.
“The whole thing is bespoke,” said Jared Bowers, director of Long Hill and Stevens-Coolidge Portfolio. “This is artistic design our team came up with, it’s nothing really off the shelf.”
Winterlights, as the event is known, is returning to the Stevens-Coolidge House at 153 Chickering Road for the third year, after a hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Two other Trustees of Reservations properties, at Naumkeag in Stockbridge and the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, are running their own versions of Winterlights concurrently.
The displays will run Wednesdays through Sundays until Jan. 9, from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m., and tickets may be purchased at thetrustees.org/winterlights. Additional tickets were added to the December and January time slots in North Andover, after initial offerings nearly sold out.
“The whole experience takes 35 or 40 minutes to finish, depending on how long you look at the lights,” Bowers said. “It’s been months in the planning, and it’s taken us weeks, I’d say, to set up all the lights. We don’t know an exact count, but it’s got to be somewhere around 100,000 lights.”
After deciding on a route through the property for visitors to follow, Bowers and his team designed displays to celebrate each unique space at the estate.
Visitors will encounter groves of Christmas trees fashioned out of colorful lights that seem to hang in the air, and dogwoods strung with white lights so they look like they are dancing.
There are strings of lights dangling like vines from the walls of the rose garden, and colored balls of light that hang like lanterns from trees in the perennial garden.
Visitors can also walk through tunnels of lights and, after reading a cautionary sign, may choose to enter the spinning lights of the Vortex Tunnel. If they do, they are advised to hold fast to the rails and focus on something out the other end.
“We used it at another one of our properties, for Halloween on the Hill,” Bowers said. “It’s an event we did at Long Hill (in Beverly), at our garden there, and it was such a hit, people really loved it, kids especially. So we decided to bring it over here.”
He said they made an effort to use a greater variety of colored lights this year in North Andover, after someone commented that white lights dominated past displays.
“We’ve gone overboard, and have tons this year,” Bowers said.
The Trustees of Reservations property was known as Ashdale Farm when it was purchased in 1729 by the Stevens family. In the early 20th century, Helen Stevens and her husband, John Coolidge, spent decades transforming the grounds and house into a country estate.
An anonymous donation in 2017 allowed for the recent addition of a parking lot, which is accessed from Chickering Road. The estate also added a Garden Gateway that opened in April and incorporates a gift shop, admissions and program space.
In addition, the walled rose garden, greenhouse and potager garden that Stevens and Coolidge created were supplemented this year by an entrance garden, Helen’s Meadow, a wetland garden, cutting garden and promenade, along with an event lawn.
“We doubled the amount of gardens that we had this year,” Bowers said. “We built several new garden spaces and they’re beautiful in their own right. This new Winterlights experience weaves throughout those new gardens.”
One example of a new feature, the shooting stars that sweep across the land sculptures in Helen’s Meadow, greet visitors near the beginning of the route.
There are also sculptures of snowflakes, and Santa’s reindeer to greet people at key points along the way, and an Ashdale Concessions stand where they can pause for refreshments.
“It’s almost right in the middle of the experience, where you can get hot cocoa, hot apple cider, and apple cider doughnuts,” Bowers said.
And where other types of events might be threatened by winter weather, romantics may prefer the experience of Winterlights in falling snow.
“All the lights have been taped up,” Bowers said. “We’re ready for any storm.”