The greening of tennis

BNP flowers Spago succulent wall - Copy.JPG

Generally, plants don't grow parallel to the ground. They're more of the perpendicular persuasion.

But at this year's BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, observant visitors who take a break from the action between the lines in Stadium 1 will notice a piece of art on the lobby wall at Spago that, on closer inspection, is actually a succulent garden whose members seem to be thriving in their new relationship to terra firma. Andy Vickery, a first time tournament ticket holder from Houston, and his wife, Carol, loved the cactus and everything else about the dry desert event.

BNP flowers Andy Vickery at Spago succulent wall BNP - Copy.JPG

At the Sports Bar near Stadium 2, what looks like yarn art decorates the walls above the TVs, but they're really swatches of reindeer and sheet mosses that cover the green spectrum. They were news to a couple of guys drinking beer under the furry display. Identifying themselves as Michael Haupt from Thousand Oaks and tournament regular "Darth Federer" from L.A. (pictured), they were charmed to learn that nature was overseeing their refreshment.

BNP flowers Darth Federer and moss1 - Copy.JPG

The outfit responsible for all the flowers and plants in temporary residence here at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is Eventscape. The small business has been providing botanical accessories here for 20 years, since the tournament was a smaller affair located down Highway 111 at the Hyatt resort. Now what's referred to as tennis' "fifth major" covers 54 acres, much of which Eventscape enhances with mostly locally sourced plants.

Although the geraniums, bougainvillea and ficus trees that proliferate in the outdoor areas of the venue are rather prosaic, the indoor floral arrangements like the succulent and moss walls are unusual, and the floral arrangements Eventscape provides fresh daily in the corporate suites can be spectacular. I was told that the display in the Rolex suite was massive and impressive, a claim I tried to verify. But the officious blond suite attendant made it clear that it was not my time to smell, much less take a picture of, the watch company's flowers.

So I knocked on the next door, at the suite belonging to Oracle, whose executive chairman, Larry Ellison, also owns the BNP Paribas tournament. He might not be known for his warm and fuzzy hospitality, unless you're a highly ranked tennis pro, many of whom stay at his compound during the tournament. But the Oracle suite attendants were welcoming, funny and more than happy to let me take several shots of their mini-orchid and succulent displays. They weren't the over-the-top presentations I'm told Eventscape supplies to Rolex, but given a choice of lovely floral d├ęcor or lovely suite staffers, I choose No. 2 every time.

BNP flowers succulents in Oracle suite1 - Copy.JPG

At an event this large, Eventscape crews swell to about 25, grounds and suite gardeners. That's even more, according to owners Tizoc and Briana DeAztlan, than Super Bowl XXXII, which they also floralized at Qualcomm Stadium, in San Diego in 1998.

Proper plant accessorizing can be a challenge for events such as this, which lasts nearly two weeks but whose preparation begins six weeks in advance. Each venue's plant selection must account for prevailing climate, and when Eventscape began to cultivate the Tennis Garden this year in February, it was rainy. This week, temperatures have been parked in the mid-90s, it's dry and, at some point this week, will be windy. It's always windy for part of this tournament, and just like the players, successful plants must be able to adjust to changing conditions.

BNP flowers 9 3-17 - Copy.JPG

Two years ago, Tizoc reports, his fabulous idea of hanging some bougainvillea from the roof of Piero's PizzaVino near Stadium 2 didn't work out so well when the viney structure couldn't withstand the wind. All of this year's "bogeys," as he refers to the thorny bushes, are contained within planters, and are a threat only to the crews that keep them looking sharp. "There's blood, sweat and tears all over the property," he says, but the customers see only the bright magenta blossoms.

Sometimes, Eventscape crews find in the planter boxes more than things that grow: cellphones, sunglasses, makeup and condoms. Used. You gotta wonder how the latter product was consumed in a place where 35,000 people can congregate every day.

Photos: Ellen Alperstein

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