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October 22, 2014

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Weekly Q&A: Bellagio’s Andres Garcia is a master of the holidays

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Bill Hughes

Those beautiful seasonal displays in the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens? Yeah, director of horticulture Andres Garcia did that.

To refer to the director of horticulture at Bellagio as “Andy Garcia” is not inaccurate, but it can be confusing. See, there’s this actor …

“It has happened to me many times in the conservatory, where they think that I am the other Andy Garcia,” says Andres “Andy” Garcia. “I don’t look like him, but hey, it’s okay.”

The 48-year-old Garcia is executive director of horticulture at Bellagio, where he has worked since 1998. As such, he is the overlord of the rotating seasonal displays at the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens. The current holiday display features a 42-foot-tall white fir cut from Shasta County in Northern California, 1,700 silver ornaments, 13,500 flashing white lights, thousands of poinsettias and carnations (in the form of a family of polar bears) and mechanical penguins sashaying on artificial ice. Looming happily above all this décor are 24 gold and silver bells. The week after the display opened, Garcia told the Weekly of his remarkable rise to the zenith of horticulture:

You were the 13th of 15 children in your family in El Salvador, is that right? I am one of 17 kids, actually. One-seven. I am the baby of the boys. There are nine sisters and eight brothers.

What was it like growing up in a family that large? We had no electricity, no running water and living on a small farm. I was creative … I walked 10 miles a day, just to keep myself entertained. I grew up in a very small farming town, Ereguayquin. Back then, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, about 200-300 people lived there. It’s where everybody knows your name. Sometimes it’s not a good thing (laughs).

We farmed corn, vegetables, rice, cotton. We didn’t have any other income except for the farm, and my mother assisted my father in the farming, day in and day out. My mom got up every morning and got a basket and went to the field, and came back with squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and fresh eggs and cooked for us. Now, when I think of those things, I get tears in my eyes. It was a beautiful life.

How did you get to Las Vegas? I left El Salvador in 1984 and was working in Beverly Hills, parking cars. I worked in a factory in Los Angeles. Then my brother moved to Vegas, and he invited me to come here, to Vegas, in 1986. He had a friend who had a landscaping business and my brother said, “If you want to move here, I will get you a job with him.” … I found that what I was doing was kind of farming—working with fertilizer and soil, grasses, trees and shrubs. So I stayed with it, and one thing led to another and I’m here.

How did you find work in the resort industry? Well, I had this job with the landscaping company, and I liked it. We had a small contract at the Mirage, to fix the irrigation system in the volcano. I came in and fixed the irrigation, and all of a sudden we got more work and more work, and I was asked to assist a resident who lived out in Summerlin.

The gentleman happened to be an executive with the Mirage, and he asked about me. He said, “You need to work for us!” The next day he called me into the horticulture office, and from there he called Shadow Creek, the golf course (owned at the time by Steve Wynn, who also owned the Mirage) and talked to the managers there. They had an opening. I interviewed for the job, I was offered the job, but the guy who owned the landscaping company told them not to hire me because I was their best worker. When the executive found out about this, he made a call to Shadow Creek. I won’t tell you what he said, but in a few days I was working at Shadow Creek (laughs). There are some angels that are looking out for me. I worked there until 1998, when I was transferred to the Bellagio.

There are thousands of trees in Shasta County, where this year’s Christmas tree was found. How did you decide on this particular tree? We went up the mountain to where there were not many trees—I don’t know what elevation, but way up there. When we went to look for the tree, there were four to six for me to select. … As we were walking, for some reason I looked up. And the vendor, James, he said I had an expression on my face that he could not describe. I looked at the tree, and I said, “James, here is the tree!” I walked around it, just like a little boy, taking pictures. It was magical. Amazing. Incredible. It was the best of the best.

It has to be, right? To be at the Bellagio, absolutely.

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