Guest Blogger: The Inappropriate Gardens of Sin City


They overflow the casino grounds in sun-faded color. Daylilies. Petunias. Geraniums. Now, I might  be new to this gardening business, but does it seem odd to you that someone grow petunias in the desert? They looked like they were fifteen minutes from wilting in the 111-degree sunshine.

Outside Bally’s, a broad swath of sunken garden stretches from the casino’s drop-off circle out to the sidewalk that runs along the Strip. There’s a path through the garden, but people generally avoid that in favor of the moving sidewalk that rides above the garden straight to the casino. I’ve worked at least five conferences at Bally’s, and I can assure you I never walked through the garden before this past weekend. The foliage, set against the burn of neon, faded into the background.

Bally’s gardeners seem fond of topiary work, and so bushes have been trained and trimmed to spell Lvsealtopiaryout Bally’s and Las Vegas. There are various unidentifiable animal shapes, and toward the street side of the garden, a sad frame marked where a seal either will or used to be—right now, it’s mangy and pitiful.

Between the main garden and the moving walkway, pentas lined up like soldiers surrounded a palm tree. At least pentas are Lvpentasdrought-tolerant. At least they like the sun. Half-buried hose irrigation systems feed most of the plants I saw, but that doesn’t make up for the sandy soil or the selection of growing things I’m used to seeing in temperate areas of the country.

Tammy and I walked over to the Aladdin to have dinner one night, and I pointed out an empty flowerbed to her, its hose system dusty and waiting for the next round of inappropriate annuals. “Why don’t they just put something native in there?” I asked her, realizing I had no idea what would actually count as native in Las Vegas. Maybe cactus. Or rocks.

I know the casinos have plenty of money to dump into replacing plants as they, inevitably, wither and die under the hot Vegas sun, and they’re only concerned with making it pretty for the millions of visitors who care more about the next free drink and roll of the dice than the plants outside their casinos. But I don’t know anyone—other than the occasional garden conventioneer—who sees the flowers outside the casinos as anything more than wallpaper.

So why trot out something that’s guaranteed to die? Why not just plant something local and low-maintenance, and be done with it?

Genie Gratto blogs at The Inadvertent Gardener. It’s amazing what she’ll do for a good tomato.


  1. I think that going with natives in Vegas would make too much sense. The whole place is about debauchery and waste, isn’t it? It’s a fantasy land: you’re supposed to pretend you’re in Venice, or Paris, or on an island, not out in a desert. Of course, planting stuff that belongs in a cottage garden in New England is ridiculous, but so is dressing up like a 19-year-old stripper and throwing away money on some game you don’t know the name of that involves dice. (Oh, wait… you all do that too, right?)

  2. R., you make a good point — it’s true that the whole city is filled with fantasy and hyper-reality. However, I’d argue that the plants outside the casino don’t really add anything to the fantasy. The big illusion is what’s happening indoors, whether it’s the carnival atmosphere at the Rio or the weird indoor thunderstorms at the Aladdin or Caesar’s Palace.

    Even if it’s all about debauchery and waste, the plant exploitation seems a little unnecessary to me.

  3. I lived in the High Desert of California outside of Joshua Tree as a child and the profligate waste of water in Las Vegas is sickening. The idea of lawns in the desert is wasteful and moronic.

    I’m also reminded of a woman in San Antonio TX, that thought water restrictions were some sort of plot against her. When I tried to explain most of San Antonio’s water came from an aquifier she looked at me like I was insane.

    The new arrivals to the desert have no common sense. The Fremen will take their water. (I’m sorry I couldn’t resist a little “Dune” geekery).

  4. On my first visit I noticed something I thought was really strange. Garden beds full of flowering kale.

    Flowering kale is loved in Minnesota in the fall because it still looks good when it’s only 20 degrees outside, and everything else in the yard has been reduced to green mush. It’s not the classic desert plant.

    I asked one of the workers, who was digging up the old plants and planting new ones, how they were kept alive. He pointed out the refrigeration tubes in the ground.

    Since then I’ve been back and seen pansies, and other cold weather plants, growing (not well) aroung other casinos.

    What a strange place.

  5. I was told that a the Bellagio had a brilliant display of blooming crabapple trees for Easter a few years ago…….and that they all went in the compost heap after the weekend. Absurd.

  6. “I asked one of the workers, who was digging up the old plants and planting new ones, how they were kept alive. He pointed out the refrigeration tubes in the ground.”

    This quote planted an image in my head that won’t go away. A kind of “whaaa? are they crazy? the waste! the cost!” But maybe I’m being a hypocrite. Is there much difference between humans living in AC’ed houses and flowering kale living in AC’ed desert flower beds?

  7. Pam, I’d like to say there’s a significant difference, but I suppose you’re right. Still, somehow air conditioning a plant strikes me as so much more wasteful and stupid than air conditioning a house. Perhaps it’s just how I’ve been…conditioned?

    (Sorry. Couldn’t help it.)

    Mary Ann, as wasteful as the Bellagio anecdote sounds, at least they had a compost heap to put them on. At least the trees didn’t just go in the trash.

    I realize, however, that you may be using “on the compost heap” euphemistically, in which case, that just makes it all worse.

  8. Does it make me a really bad person that “refrigeration tubes” made me think, hmm, maybe I could put in some refrigeration tubes and grow lilacs that bloom here in zone 8?

  9. A couple of years ago, Las Vegas made everyone turn off their fountains, because of the water waste. Roars were heard from the Casinos (and not just from the MGM’s lion exhibit, or Sigfried and Roy’s “Secret Garden”). In very short order, an exemption was made for the casinos fountains, because the fountains attracted business, and casino business funds 60% of the Nevada State Budget.

    It’s allllllll incestuous, but even environmentally unsound, profligate waste can be ignored for the right price.

  10. It’s crazy to even think why early settlers wanted to settle here in the first place. Where did they get their food from? I live in Las Vegas, and yes, it’s sad to see the half wilted vegetation that has been transplanted here, especially in the 110++ degree weather. And it takes several deep waterings to keep anything looking half lush. Sadly, money buys anything, even when it doesn’t make sense. People want that lush green grass, those tall beautiful flowering trees, and are willing to pay the price- out of their pocket book, anyway. However, our Earth’s future and the people living on it will be the ones who ultimately pay the price. I have to be positive though. While all our forests are being desecrated, we atleast are planting/moving vegetation so that we can prolong the cycle of life for many other species, including our own. We are seeing such devistating effects to our environment already, but in my very own garden,I see such life. Birds, snails, earthworms (who would beleive such little guys could live in the desert!), etc. I have great soil because of all of this. Yes, it does take watering, but I ensure my own responsibility by watering in the evening hours so that the sun does not evaporate it up and making sure that my systems work properly (no leaking). I’m not saying that what I am doing is all right, but atleast I do what I can.

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