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Secret Gardens

By Selena Fragassi


Hidden gems are literally everywhere when it comes to non-traditional venues—and sometimes the best-kept secrets can be wonders of the event world. Such is the case in the middle of the hot, dry Las Vegas desert where there grows a secret garden at a mystical place called the Springs Preserve. “It’s really the birthplace of Las Vegas. It’s where water was first found in the city, so it is a natural preserve,” says Jason Bailey, director of group sales. On the 180-acre “campus,” which opened to the public in 2007 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are two museums, a café and a lavish botanical garden where many weddings and group meetings gather to take in the natural setting.

“We have a garden amphitheater that seats between 200 and 250 people and also a brand-new solar house that was designed and built by students of the University of Nevada Las Vegas,” says Bailey of some of the most unique rentable spaces. There’s also an arboretum and a greenhouse where groups can have sit-down meetings or schedule cooking demonstrations or a cocktail hour. The entire swath of the 8-acre gardens can also be rented in full for one flowing production. The flexibility of the space has attracted a number of clients in the medical, financial, design and nonprofit industries who have come to adore the atmosphere and ease of use. “The gardens are very peaceful and such a different place than you’d normally get to experience in a meeting or an event. There’s nothing like it in Las Vegas.”

Exploring the Grounds

It’s a similar selling point at the Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon that touts incredible estate gardens on the campus. They are part of the Frank Manor House built in the 1920s by a prominent family of department store retailers and were designed by famous landscape architect Herman Bruckman who put a lot of thought into the layout. There are four levels, all that run on the same axis as Mount Hood, “one of the most beautiful views you can see,” says Kerry Keenon, associate director of conferences and events.

The many features of the garden are also breathtaking, including wisteria and grape arbors, a rose garden, protruding terrace, cobblestone circle cathedral and a pavilion that can seat up to 900 people, “which is rare,” admits Keenon, also noting that groups as small as 100 guests are welcome for more intimate events. Water features run through each level of the gardens right down to the reflection pool, which has become a popular spot for a number of social parties and galas. “Groups put bistros all along the sides or run café lights over the top of it …and sometimes they turn it into a jazz club with a local orchestra,” Keenon says.

One of the great benefits of booking at Lewis & Clark is that the rental includes the entire garden property, “a very extensive space,” with very few restrictions. One is that the team must hire security “because we block off the entire perimeter of the gardens for you,” says Keenon. Another is that all music must be concluded by 10 p.m. though after hours parties can be taken indoors to the 200-person Stam Dining Room, 500-person Agnes Flanagan Chapel or a number of greenhouses.

Beyond those rules, guests are able to use the property at whim. “We’ve had a lot of corporate picnics set up bowling and croquet on the side lawns, and we’ve hired lifeguards for folks who want to actively use the pool,” recalls Keenon. “There are lots of nooks and crannies that are fun to explore and use in unique ways.”

Works of Art

Art museums are also taking it outside by promoting their garden spaces to clients. At the Delaware Art Museum, in a residential area of Wilmington, a 9-acre sculpture park provides the benefit of built-in décor with 12 pieces of towering art dating back to the 1930s and the addition of a 200-foot reservoir labyrinth that was constructed in 2005 where small ceremonies in the round take place.

At the Dallas Museum of Art in Texas there’s also a sculpture garden with space for 1,500 people. The area is flanked by modern art and enhanced by a brick floor, reflection pool and three waterfalls. Elsewhere, a first floor sculpture terrace is ideal for receptions for up to 40 guests while courtyards can host nearly 200 people. The space is popular for weddings and fundraising events, including the museum’s annual Fair of the Arts donor night that sets up a variety of food stations and incorporates live mural artists. “It’s one of the best events we do in the garden,” admits Craig James, general manager and executive chef.

Like the other garden spaces at Springs Preserve and Lewis & Clark, the art museums host events year round, though the caveat is that they have to be scheduled around the museum’s hours. “We mostly do evening events,” says Liz Derosier, general manager of Sodexo Leisure Services at the Delaware Art Museum. “Otherwise, during the day you might see our neighbors walking through or school groups having a picnic since the gardens are open to the public.” Everyone has been pretty respectful of the private events, though, says Derosier. “No one has wandered through a wedding ceremony yet.”

Weathering All the Storms

At Springs Preserve, nighttime events are popular too, especially in the dead heat of a Vegas summer. “It can be a challenge because we do get some pretty warm days for quite a few months,” says Bailey noting his team always works with the client. “If we think it’s not a good idea to be outside at 3:00 in an afternoon in August we’ll caution against that and try to recommend moving the event indoors or scheduling back to a later time. We can go until 11 p.m. for most functions and can also coordinate morning events.”

In general weather remains one of the biggest tasks for outdoor venues, but all interviewed have said that staff is well prepared with comprehensive backup plans. That can involve judgment calls in moving the production to the site’s enclosed quarters. “Sometimes we know the forecast a week ahead so we can plan accordingly, but we can also make a decision the day of the event before we start setting up,” says James of the Dallas Museum of Art’s policies.

Gardens Grow with Add-Ons

In the case of Lewis & Clark, the planning department almost always requires tents to stave off rain or prevent people from getting chilled by the Portland breezes—especially since they have to call in the order ahead of time with suppliers. While some venues like Springs Preserve and Dallas Museum of Art have a good internal supply of production incidentals, Lewis & Clark has relationships with preferred professionals that bring in all the tenting, tables, chairs, lights and dance floors the event needs. It’s an important part, says Keenon, since “there’s nothing out in the gardens except for what you see naturally.”

Garden venues are essentially naked spaces so there’s considerable time spent in working with vendors to understand the property and how to best utilize it. “Because of the large sculptures in the garden, sometimes working around them can be tricky,” says Derosier who leaves extra time for walk-throughs with vendors. Here, the garden spaces are also a considerable distance from the Delaware Art Museum’s kitchen so everything has to be taken out by cart and pre-planned. “But with the right amount of lead time we can pretty much make anything happen,” she assures.

The other important aspect of dealing with raw spaces is helping clients envision what is possible. “If they’re local to Vegas, we’ll definitely have them come out and walk the site with them. I think that’s the most important thing in the planning process,” says Bailey. In other cases, he says Springs Preserve can provide detailed floor plans and photos of past events to help stir a client’s imagination. “We do what we can to help them get beyond any trepidation of hosting outdoors,” he says. “When all is said and done, our best events take place in the gardens.”

Get Connected

Dallas Museum of Art
(214) 922.1855

Delaware Art Museum
(302) 351.8530

Lewis & Clark College
(503) 768.7235

Springs Preserve
(702) 822.7746