August 20, 2008
Author: Barnabas Seyler
Photographer: Dan Burcham
The famous Bellagio Las Vegas, with a commanding location on the Vegas Strip adjacent to Caesar’s Palace, first opened in 1998. This huge resort and casino, built on the grounds of the former Dunes Hotel by Mr. Steve Wynn, was named after a small, northern Italian city much loved by him. The magnificent, dancing musical fountain display, which frames the Bellagio’s position on the Strip, originally cost $35 million to construct. Upon entering the Bellagio, guests and visitors are awed by the beautiful $8 million glass sculpture by noted artist Dale Chihuly, blanketing the lobby’s large ceiling. Considering Mr. Wynn’s philosophy to continuously improve upon past successes, it isn’t surprising that everything at the Bellagio is on a grand scale.
Upon our arrival at the Bellagio, we were met by Ms. Beth Garner (horticulture training/safety manger) and Mr. John Symanski (exterior horticulture manager). In addition to our hosts, there are approximately 140 employees in the horticulture department, divided into the floriculture, conservatory, and exterior display divisions. Just like the famous concerts and theatrical performances throughout the Strip, we soon learned that the work of the Bellagio’s horticultural staff is also a highly choreographed and carefully orchestrated production.
The Bellagio’s centrally located conservatory showcased an amazing horticultural display where many of the plants were labeled with botanical names. Beth explained that the display is changed seasonally five times per year and nearly everything is in pots to facilitate convenient change-outs. The five seasonal displays are spring, summer, fall, Christmas, and Chinese New Year. All elements within the conservatory are selected in accordance with the given seasonal display. Even the water features, programmed to frolic and dance to music, are redesigned and changed out seasonally. Besides the plant materials and physical display features, the music and even the fragrances are carefully chosen to create a rich ambiance for the guests and visitors. For example, during the fall display, pumpkin-spice is subtly wafted into the space to further engage the senses of those touring the exhibit.
The horticulture department is currently designing the displays for the upcoming Christmas and Chinese New Year, as the department tries to plan at least 1-2 seasons ahead. Though all horticultural shows are highly regarded, Beth explained that the Christmas and Chinese New Year displays are the most popular. In order to ensure the highest quality and authenticity, the Bellagio has worked with a feng shui consultant each year to help develop the Chinese New Year exhibits according to the craft’s ancient principles.
Though the scale is much larger, the Bellagio’s horticultural activities are similar to other public horticulture institutions. For example, like many other public gardens, Beth explained that the Bellagio has an aggressive Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, in which beneficial insects, tea-sprays, and horticultural oils are used to combat insects and other pests. Pesticides and other chemicals are only a last resort, and only applied with the safety of the guests in mind.
Following our conservatory tour, we continued exploring the Bellagio’s property with John Symanski, who highlighted his areas of responsibility outdoors. He was quick to point out the challenges of maintaining attractive, well-manicured landscape plantings; in fact, he cited several examples where the extremes of the Las Vegas climate, coupled with the impact of thousands of guests, dictates plant choice and replacement. Several years ago, the Bellagio was purchased by the MGM Mirage Corporation, which owns many other casinos and hotels on the Strip. Scheduled to open in 2009, the huge $11.5 billion City Center project is another property on the Strip being developed by the MGM/Mirage Corporation. We were amazed to learn that in addition to the exterior gardens at the Bellagio, John overseas the horticultural maintenance at the New York, New York Hotel and the headquarters of the City Center project as well. If the caliber of horticulture exhibited at the Bellagio is any indication of what is to come at the City Center project, it will almost assuredly be a great success.