With Santa’s workshop, elves and reindeer, the scene at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville might look like the North Pole, except it’s much closer to home. Because the coronavirus is keeping Santa sidelined this year, the Homestead Gardens team thought of the next best thing: transforming their garden center into a winter wonderland with spirited displays, fresh beverages and merriment galore.
“It’s an experience when you come in,” said Brian Riddle, president of Homestead Gardens. “The whole place is decorated. As soon as you get out of your car, there are places to go get coffee, refreshments and cider. It’s easy to maintain distance because the place is so big.”
While that “big” space will give guests plenty of room for safe distancing, it will also give life to a vibrant backdrop of mechanical scenes made by Lou Nasti, who has been called a modern-day Geppetto. Nasti has spent more than 40 years designing animated snowmen, penguins and other characters that embody the holiday season.
Asked about Nasti’s displays, Homestead Gardens community relations and special events manager Pam Finlay said, “They fit the uniqueness of Homestead Gardens. Brian knew Lou made these here in America and he knew these were the best.”
Visitors at the Severna Park store will also find the holiday scenes, including one with talking reindeer. Both the Severna Park and Davidsonville stores will be decked out with themed trees.
“There are scenes and vignettes, and trees with themes — farm and pet themes, an old-fashioned theme and more,” Finlay said. “And all the beautiful poinsettias and candy canes will be out.”
Homestead is also a must-see destination because of its model train display, which is complete with village scenes, animated skiers and cable cars. This year, the train’s architect, Joe Hartline, extended and painted the train tables. It usually takes four weeks to set up the railroad, he said, but this year required six weeks for additional maintenance and updates.
“The railroad has three tracks on the lower level and four tracks on the upper level, totaling 250 feet,” Hartline said. “This layout was designed over 15 years ago, and while the track configuration remains constant, I try to vary the placement of buildings, people and cars, as well as adding trees and terrain changes.”
Trains and animated characters are not the only items shoppers will find at the store. Homestead is also decked out with outdoor décor, trees, ornaments, toppers, lights, tree stands and more.
While Homestead Gardens will honor the holidays by welcoming families to its warm and fuzzy home, it will also participate in another time-honored holiday tradition: giving back. The store will again partner with Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic, encouraging customers to hang a star on the Make-A-Wish tree as they seek to help children living with chronic medical conditions. Homestead will also hold a fundraiser for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and support a clothing drive organized by the Annapolis Rotary Club.
“They’re our neighbors,” Riddle said, explaining why he donates to community groups and civic organizations. “We have always been aware of that. We also want to support causes that uphold farming and agriculture. That’s big in this area.”
When making holiday plans, families can pencil in a trip to Homestead Gardens with the knowledge that the environment will be safe, entertaining and full of holiday cheer.
“People want to get out of the house and still feel like it’s Christmas,” Finlay said. “Families can do that at Homestead Gardens, where they have been coming for three generations.”
Homestead Gardens is open from 9:00am-7:00pm Monday through Friday, 8:00am-7:00pm on Saturday and 9:00am-6:00pm on Sunday. For more information, call 410-798-5000 or visit www.homesteadgardens.com.