See how the Bellagio Conservatory is transformed in the timelapse video above.
It’s the most popular show in Vegas; has a cast of thousands and a crew of more than 100 … And it’s free.
Each year more than 5 million visitors, 15,000 – 18,000 per day, take time out from gambling, clubbing and shopping to experience the floral extravaganza of one of five horticultural shows in the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
“The conservatory is so unique that it is a must-see destination in Las Vegas,” says Andres Garcia, Bellagio’s Director of Horticulture. “It is unique; it is beautiful; it is magical.”
For the Bellagio, the Conservatory show is an intrinsic part of the hotel’s allure.
“When guests think of Bellagio, the thoughts are of the magnificent fountains, the Chihuly ceiling in the grand lobby, and the beauty of the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens amongst all of our other amenities,” says H. Fletch Brunelle, senior vice president of hotel sales and marketing. “Visitors to Bellagio expect a spectacular show and our Horticulture Department provides this experience.”
From Sept. 19 – Nov. 27, the Bellagio Conservatory presents its autumn showcase with all the sights and colors of the season.
Visitors can enjoy a brand new display this year. Created by English artist Tom Hare, the Conservatory features three majestic “fantasy” trees. Each tree weighs 3,300 pounds and stands at a towering 25 feet. The spiraled branches reach the top of the Conservatory’s glass ceiling.
In addition, the fall showcase features a stone-based rustic greenhouse. Nestled among weeping California pepper and olive trees, the greenhouse includes 20 to 30-year-old specimen orchids from around the world. Specimen orchids are grown uninterrupted for several years, which allows the plants to grow to a large size with an abundance of blooms.
Other picturesque displays include pumpkins (weighing anywhere between 300 to 1,000 pounds), a “smiling” Ent tree, animated Venus Flytraps, a babbling brook, a rustic bridge, a scarecrow and colorful cattails. Scents of chrysanthemums and Asiatic lilies fill the air, providing the perfect refreshing experience through the gardens.
Beginning with Chinese New Year in January and changing through spring, summer, fall and finally winter, the conservatory mounts each show with the creativity and lavishness that a Broadway producer would envy.
Like a Broadway show, these floral theatrical productions take months of work and an army of talented people, plus a colorful cast of players – here thousands of flowers, trees and plants – to pull off.
Planning for each show begins two to three months before it debuts.
“What are we going to install? What will be the theme? What props are we going to use? How are we going to accomplish it?” These are just a few of the questions Garcia says the Bellagio’s horticulture staff wrestles with.
“We have to be creative,” he explains. “We have design meetings every week.”
Ideas come from a variety of sources. The Bellagio has 120 people working on its horticultural staff in a variety of areas including the conservatory, interior and exterior floral and grounds maintenance and floral design. This doesn’t include the numerous employees from engineering, electrical, water design and more who all help contribute to the final product.
“We have to have all these skilled people to make this beauty,” says Garcia.
The conservatory staff is always listening, looking for the next inspiration and it’s not just the hotel staff that’s voicing an opinion during the design phase. Visitors to the garden play an active role in what gets installed.
“We always walk the conservatory without a name tag so we are hearing the guests and we are learning from the guests what they want to see,” says Garcia.
“We never say never because we are always looking for that unique plant, that unique tree that people are going to talk about. We are open for anything.”
Creating new and unique shows is a key part of the Conservatory’s attraction, according to Tim Hunter, Conservatory manager.
“I try to have different flowers in here, even if it’s one different type of flower, so not every show looks the same,” says Hunter. “That’s the biggest challenge, finding something new so when you come back next summer you don’t walk through and say ‘Oh this is what they did last summer.’ It’s got to change every year somewhat, whether it be the props, the flowers or trees. It’s got to be exciting every year, every show.”
Design work continues up to the day the show opens as the Conservatory staff wrestles with any surprises that come up along the way.
The logistics of the show change-outs are staggering. Over the course of seven days, the staff of 120 works 24-hours a day to transform the 13,573-square-foot conservatory.
Potted flowers and plants – more than 10,000 – are ordered months in advance from suppliers in Southern California. The plants arrive shortly before the exhibit and are housed temporarily in a 40,000-square-foot, off-site greenhouse. Props, stored in a 24,000-square-foot warehouse, are trucked to the hotel.
Cranes help the staff position the larger pieces like 16-foot tall glass poppies and the 40-foot tall 1922 Ferris wheel used in the summer exhibit. Tunnels run under the Conservatory’s floor to allow even more access.
Even after the change out, work for the Conservatory staff doesn’t end. Most of the watering is done by hand and every two weeks more than 10,000 potted flowers are switched out. The old plants are then recycled, providing mulch for the rest of the Bellagio. Ninety percent of the Conservatory is recycled.
“We’ve got to make sure this looks perfect,” Garcia says. “There is no room for error.”
It’s easy to get lost discussing the numbers when you talk about the conservatory. But it’s not the numbers that make the gardens the must-see show in Vegas. Numbers don’t encompass the driving emotion behind the horticultural staff’s work.
Ask Garcia, who came from a farm in El Salvador to Las Vegas to find his dream job, or Hunter who has worked for the Bellagio since its opening, why they do this and you get one answer – passion.
“It’s in me, in my blood,” Garcia explains.
“Other (Bellagio) departments want to work in horticulture,” Hunter says “Whenever we have an opening we just have floods of applications. They walk in and see it and want to work in here. What I need is someone who has the passion that wants to do this.
“You have to have that. Otherwise it doesn’t work in here.”