On Friday at promptly 5 p.m. the Bellagio Conservatory’s fall display opens to the public and guests from around the world will meander through a serene, sleepy-hollow inspired autumnal atrium.
But for the six days leading up to Friday, the scene is one of intense concentration, construction sounds and kinetic motion.
Busy workers lower 25-foot-tall trees, place bricks along an intricate pathway on a walk-through bridge and prepare to fill a 15-foot-tall by 25-foot-long cornucopia. Others assemble two whimsical fantasy trees — each created from 450,000 linear feet of preserved weeping willow bark.
During this process (which takes place five times a year), the Bellagio Conservatory is surrounded by velvet ropes to keep guests from entering the construction zone. A few grumble when the garden isn’t ready for summer, fall, winter, Chinese New Year or spring, but most are excited to witness the transformation, even requesting balcony seats at Cafe Bellagio in order to take photos and get a closer look.
“Some of them book vacations during the changeover because they like it so much,” says Andy Garcia, Bellagio’s executive director of horticulture. Garcia, an animated man whose arms wave with passion as he speaks, adds: ”We are part of the show, we are part of the experience.”
Plants and props housed in an off-site warehouse come into the building through a hallway next to Jean Philippe Pâtisserie. You never know when your crepe and hot chocolate will be enhanced by a passing forklift carrying a tree.
The changeover takes a team of 50 to 75 passionate employees working 24 hours a day for six days straight, but the work really begins six months prior when the horticulture team develops its visual concept.
Every flower, shrub, tree and prop that will be displayed is carefully chosen with special note of what flora will be in bloom during the season. Based on the specifics, Bellagio’s Conservatory Manager Patricia Streeter designs a blueprint with exact layouts and measurements.
“In my wildest dreams I did not expect to find a career that combines my passion for design and horticulture,” admits Streeter. “I receive great pleasure from seeing and hearing our guests when they marvel over the Conservatory Gardens at Bellagio.”
This year’s fall display brings back the infamous talking tree ( a guest favorite from previous years), but now he will be covered in Spanish moss rather than apples. Garcia is particularly proud of the mammoth working water mill, which has been completely refurbished with redwood.
And though the change out for fall is only halfway done, the horticulture team is already thinking three seasons ahead to spring.
“For spring I’m going to have something that nobody has seen,” he says. “It’s going to be fabulous. It’s going to be beautiful. But that’s as much as I’m going to say.”