Hartley Magazine

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Las Vegas, Bellagio and More

An ever-changing floral extravaganza in a conservatory of some consequence is one of the The Strip’s sites worth seeking out.

I’ll be honest. Las Vegas was not high my bucket list of Must-Visits. But a family reunion and the lure of checking out the Bellagio ’s fabled glasshouse was a win-win. And in Vegas you need all of those you can get. If you recall my contrariness about Dale Chihuly, expressed my article from last November, then you can imagine how I was primed for ennui when, on entering the lobby, I discovered the roof positively groaning under the weight of the biggest Chihuly installation I have seen.

Photo 1
The Conservatory atrium beckons in the distance, almost but not quite overwhelmed by the Chihuly ceiling installation.

Yet, somehow, I fell in love with it. Maybe it was the larger-than-life, mirror-mosaic horse stationed beneath it or the forest of flower arrangements hiding the receptionists, or maybe just the whole tzimmi that left me in speechless wonder. But I staggered on, into the world of the Chinese New Year decorations spread beneath the soaring glass dome of the 15,000 square foot Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Garden. After the lobby, where the ceiling is low and the ambience dim (despite the glitter and glow of the above art installations), one has to follow the light.

Excess seems to be the tag in Las Vegas. And the Bellagio floral show is all that and more. Since it’s the Year of The Rooster, there was a mechanical chicken dominating the beautifully fluffed and trimmed display of tropical ornamentals, azaleas, bromeliads, bamboos, bonsai, orchids, mums, you name it. The scheme is arranged around a central arch-covered bridge that carries visitors across a flowing stream — the water works and much of the plan were, I was told, arranged by a Feng Shui master. It was quite a wonderland, and one that changes four times a year to coincide with multicultural seasonal celebrations to awe the estimated 20,000 people per day that filter through the Bellagio experience.

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Celebrating Chinese New Year at the Bellagio in true Rooster style.

But amidst the spectacle there’s a small fountain sitting quietly while the milling throng hustles by, heading to the gaming tables or one of several restaurants or top-label boutiques. Occasionally someone stops to admire, or to throw a coin in the basin for luck (we are in a casino, after all). Little do they know, that the fountain was made by the Pulham family, one of the foremost British landscape companies of the 19th century, renowned for their ferneries, rockeries, grottoes and fountains, and the invention of a proprietary cement, Pulhamite, which was used in many of their garden installations — and those garden add-ons could be every bit as extravagant in Victorian terms as anything modern Las Vegas has to offer.

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The Bellagio Fountain opposite the entrance to the glass-domed conservatory. Note the dome mural above it, painted to represent a trelliswork covered in climbers, a common feature in Italian villa gardens from the Renaissance to the 19th century.

The Bellagio fountain was originally made to sit in front of the Horticultural Exhibition Hall at Kew Gardens as part of the 1862 International Exhibition in London.   The little chap that tops the fountain is said to have been inspired by a Renaissance sculpture of a putto (angel child) playing with a dolphin, made c.1470 by the Renaissance sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio; it resides in the Palazzo Vecchio, in Florence, Italy.

After its Exhibition heyday, the Bellagio fountain fell into disrepair, but was rescued by Thomason Cudworth, “makers and restorers of terracotta sculpture” and in 1999 was purchased by Steve Wynn, the developer of the Bellagio. The hotel was under construction then, and he brought the Thomason Cudworth craftsmen over from England to install it in its current position in the lobby. They again restored the fountain several years ago, as it “had become damaged over the years by coin-throwing well wishers and over excited tourists.”

And so, this little piece of English garden history made its way to one of the crossroads of the world, to grace the forecourt a purely American experience. You can take it from me, if you’re one of those garden-art lovers prone to over-excitedness, the multicultural experience of Bellagio’s Conservatory will surely bring it on. Just keep your coins in your pocket.