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Bellagio Conservatory is a force of nature

It’s a spectacle unique to Las Vegas. Six million plants, plus giant trees, water features, lighting, butterflies, birds and robotics have crossed the 13,500-square-foot floor of the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden in the past 20 years, along with about 150 million visitors.

If it sounds like a monumental undertaking, it is. Before each of the conservatory’s five displays a year are mounted, the last one is cleared out — lock, stock and water lily. The only permanent structures are mosaic-tile walkways, concrete curbs around the gardens and an 18-foot, 3,000-pound quartz-crystal obelisk. It takes 125 employees, working in three shifts around the clock for six days, to make a change, said Jerry Bowlen, executive director of horticulture at Bellagio.

“We come every few months,” said Steve Parish, who frequently travels from his home in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, to see the conservatory with his wife, Sandra. “We just love what they’re able to do with it.”

“We love the creativity and the display,” Sandra Parish added.

The displays have been high profile from the beginning. Decor doyenne Martha Stewart was involved with decorating and lighting the first Christmas tree in 1998.

“The technique of bringing the (elements) in and out is a sight to see,” Bowlen said. The props and plants are staged in parts of the parking garage, with the larger ones brought down a hallway near the Bellagio Patisserie. Liners are used to form ponds; large props are placed, and then smaller items are brought in. An irrigation system takes care of trees and topiaries, but flowers and shrubs are watered by hand. Flowers last two to three weeks and, when removed, are turned into mulch for use elsewhere.

Display themes spring from the whimsy of Bowlen and Ed Libby, designer for the conservatory. Two to three new props are introduced with every display, while some are recycled. Fan favorites have included a talking tree, butterflies, a 42-foot live Christmas tree and polar bear topiaries. Living elements such as butterflies or birds pose their own challenges, Bowlen said, but the conservatory is as much about engineering as nature, with a complex infrastructure that begins eight feet below the curbs supporting it all.

“One thing we’ve found our guests really like is any type of movement or robotics that we bring into the props,” he said. “People also like water.”

Bowlen’s favorite is the annual holiday display.

“We’ve got a fantastic holiday show this year,” he promised. “Horse carriages, castles, ice princesses … ”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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