Town mouse: Christmas at Kew

Darkness had fallen and early evening saw the ‘rush hour’ of Heathrow-bound planes thundering over our heads. But, fortified with mince pies and mulled wine, we made our way through the sylvan mysteries of a nocturnal Kew Gardens.

Christmas at Kew is a new venture for the Royal Botanic Gardens, where a trail leads for a meandering mile through the arboretum in a sophisticated, modern version of son et lumière. I won’t give away its highlights, in case you’re intending to go (the event continues on selected nights until January 4, 2014), but I will say that it demonstrates how to illuminate a garden with both subtlety and drama.

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The lighting of trees is contentious and difficult to do well, but amber lamps washing over the trunk of a pine, with contrasting, blue-green lamps highlighting its needled branches gives the tree back its daytime colours in an interesting way.

Likewise, stretches of water convey their own enchantment, especially in the Waterlily House. The paths are discreetly waymarked by projected ground patterns at intervals, and a mandala ‘fire garden’ is mesmerising. The music and light show at the Palm House is a tremendous finale; we lingered to watch it several times. Like The Terminator, I’ll be back.

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