OAKLAND -- Local artists will illuminate the Gardens at Lake Merritt on Friday and Saturday as volunteers and staff from the City of Oakland reprise the Autumn Lights Festival.

More than 800 people attended the inaugural fundraiser last year after parks staff members saw an opportunity to spread awareness about the gardens, a seven-acre collection tucked into Lakeside Park. Supporters often refer to the site as a "hidden jewel," offering a stroll through Mediterranean, bonsai and 10 other styles of gardens.

"It came out of a vision that gardens are pretty magical at twilight, yet gardens are usually locked in the evening," Tora Rocha, a parks supervisor, said of last fall's event. "We got the inspiration to light it up at night."

Lake Merritt Master Gardener David Blood, right, shows visitor Betty Carmichael, of Emeryville, around the herb garden at the Gardens at Lake Merritt on
Lake Merritt Master Gardener David Blood, right, shows visitor Betty Carmichael, of Emeryville, around the herb garden at the Gardens at Lake Merritt on June 7, 2009, in Oakland. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff file)

Artists will use LEDs, lanterns and a variety of other light sources to bathe the gardens in a soft glow. The event will feature fire dancers, electric fireflies, glowing waterfalls, tiki lanterns and an angel's trumpet tree with a light in each bulb.

Festival tickets cost $25 in advance or $35 at the door, though tickets for children 3 to 12 are half-off and free if younger than 3. A $50 VIP ticket includes beer and wine.

All funds raised during the event will go toward maintaining the gardens "so we can make the gardens more sustainable in the long run," Rocha said of the maintenance required to keep the gardens alive and well. "It also creates a place where city employees can show their talents."


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Jerry Miller, a representative of the Friends group, said the event "is right in line with what we hoped" volunteers could accomplish by involving the community more in the gardens, which are open free daily.

"Over time, this has been sort of forgotten as a public space," Miller said. "It's not something that gets lost in the halls of horticulturists. There is value here for everyone."

Up to 50 volunteers work in the gardens each month, with Merritt College also tending a garden on-site. On the first and third Saturday of each month, volunteers are invited to learn about horticulture techniques.

The gardens, which are pesticide- and herbicide-free, are open 9 a.m. to dusk in the winter and until 6 p.m. all other seasons.

IF YOU GO
What: Second annual Autumn Lights Festival
Where: Gardens at Lake Merritt, 666 Bellevue Ave., Oakland
When: 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Cost: $25 in advance or $35 at the gate; half-price for children ages 3 to 12 and free if younger than 3. VIP tickets for ages 21 and older are available in advance for $50 and include beer and wine tastings.
Information: http://gardensatlakemerritt.org