Plantscaping Advice from Resorts and Theme Parks

July 1, 2007
Whether for permanent display or temporary accent, the philosophies employed in plantscaping in resorts and theme parks can be applied to any facility

If ever there was a role model for an industry standard, Gaylord Opryland® Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, TN, exemplifies the brightest and best in plantscaping success. Under majestic, climate-controlled glass atriums, guests are surrounded by 9 acres of lush indoor gardens, winding rivers and pathways, and sparkling waterfalls where they can unwind, explore, shop, dine, and be entertained to their hearts' content. Highlights include a 44-foot waterfall, laser-light and fountain shows, and tours aboard the Delta Flatboats - right inside the hotel.

Since joining the resort in 1982, Hollis H. Malone, manager of horticulture and pest control, has had the distinct pleasure and responsibility of first building - and then tending to - this paradise, which the resort's architect Earl Swensson defined as "people architecture." Now, 25 years later, this living testament to the benefits and viability of daylighting, flowing water, and plants in a commercial setting - the "ideal environment" sought by Swensson and the resort's owner - retains its best-in-class stature and serves as an example from which other facilities can follow.

1. Define your plantscaping objectives; make sure your building design can support them.
Are you interested in using plantscaping as a means of display or as an accent to the surroundings?  Do you want permanent plantings or those that can be moved and changed out regularly? Will building occupants or guests "interact" with the plants through multiple senses or do you wish to exercise a more hands-off environment?

At Gaylord Opryland, Malone and his colleagues continue to address these questions daily - all while scheduling their conservation duties around the 24/7 operation of a resort. "Fortunately, this large environment doesn't fluctuate very much, which is a real benefit," says Malone. "Light was, and continues to be, the key, followed by the appropriate soil media, water quality, and adequate drainage. Our engineering department is outstanding; we have an excellent HVAC system that keeps the appropriate air temperature within a couple degrees and [keeps] relative humidity between 45 and 50 percent. Historically, the plants have been good filters for the air circulation; that's only improved since we became a smoke-free environment. In fact, according to the building engineers, the plants have actually been a tremendous help in maintaining the relative humidity and balancing the HVAC system."

Although Gaylord Opryland encourages guests to enjoy their surroundings using all senses, many facilities professionals may prefer to create some barriers between patron and plant to minimize damage. MJ Gilhooley, president of Cincinnati-based Gilhooley Consulting Inc., suggests the use of anti-loitering strips (a horizontal surface around displays, using zigzags, etc.), which physically discourage people from leaning against or sitting too close to these areas.

2. Do you want to create people traffic or control/direct people traffic?
Experiencing the gardens and waterfalls at Gaylord Opryland is a destination unto itself. For professionals involved in other types of facilities, such as office and healthcare settings, plantscaping can reap more subtle responses.

"There is a difference between [directing] traffic flow and creating traffic," says Gilhooley. "To attract people to a particular display, one might create a setting with colors or fragrances that pull a certain demographic. We also know that theme parks and hotels generally go with their highest luxury at the entrances - a practice that is also true of hospitals and high-end office facilities."

That lush theme can extend to major public spaces (such as pools) as well. In fact, who hasn't paid a higher premium for a poolside guestroom? Don't underestimate the effect and revenue advantage that an atrium view might mean in your office building, or at a retailer's entrance located near a reflecting pool.

In a more functional sense, Gilhooley and Malone both concur that plants and walkways are subtle (but effective) traffic guides. "In theme parks and casinos, plants and planters, when appropriately placed and spaced, are often used to create walkways toward fire exits," says Gilhooley. In fact, safety, according to Gilhooley, constitutes an important element in any plantscaping scheme.

3. Real or preserved plants? In-house or outsourced services? Determine which best fits your facility's needs.
Both the ideal conditions at Gaylord Opryland and the in-house staff have nurtured the wide variety of natural plants - some of which have been there since 1982. "Our plants grow well, so part of our responsibility encompasses ongoing pruning and maintenance," says Malone. "At times, that means that major plants or trees must be removed to keep everything to scale or to open up lines of sight. In other instances, some of the more delicate plants may need relocating to less-trafficked areas."

Malone is partial to the in-house horticulture services at Gaylord Opryland and the ownership and pride that each individual takes in the end result; he realizes, however, that in-house staff may not be the solution for everyone. "A lot of that decision really depends on the facility and whether there's one consistent theme or a need for multiple rotations - huge changes of display and color, based upon marketing opportunities and seasonal requirements," says Gilhooley. "Many rotations have to happen overnight, and outsourcers may be more attuned to that timeframe. They may also be able to provide greater access to a very broad range of plantings."

Although she notes that a mix of real and preserved plants is currently in vogue (particularly when a preserved, fire-resistant flower can bring additional color, texture, and longevity when placed among the real-life versions), Gilhooley cautions: "There are maintenance issues with preserved [flowers] as well." Leasing, depending upon need, may also be an option, especially for a one-time seasonal display or a special attraction.

Don't underestimate the value that plantscaping can bring to your facility. You may not have the means to create another Gaylord Opryland, but - in any event or venue - the effect is nothing short of magic.

Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.

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