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Sep 24, 2012
Every Christmas our group of friends books some version of a wreath making/greenery class.  This year we were thrilled to discover Busch Gardens Williamsburg offers a class/tour and signed up.  

We arrived early to find the guard expecting us and drove to our reserved parking spot in front of the greenhouse to find our two guides waiting out front.  

After introductions we were taken inside the park through the employee entrance.  The guides walked us through Trapper's Village to the Das Festhaus.  Along the way we stopped so they could point out the natural arrangements. We were encouraged to take photos to reference later. They talked about how the use of natural materials has evolved with the growth of Christmas Town.  I don't want to spoil it for anyone else but the guides are very knowledgeable and informative about their subject matter.  I gained a new appreciation for what it takes to make BGW so beautiful.

We exited the park proper through a gate at the Das Festhaus and walked back along a route used by employees.  This was an added bonus for me. It was like a mini behind-the-scenes tour.  I got two tours for the price of one.

We walked back to the greenhouse where there was a large variety of greens and dried materials harvested from the grounds of BGW.  Most of these materials are recycled from maintenance pruning throughout the park.  All the tools needed to create an arrangement are provided.  After donning the required gloves and goggles we were given large pots to fill with dirt.  Next we wandered around gathering materials and began building our arrangements to take home.  Yes!  You get to take home a bit of BGW.  Again the staff were wonderful.  They guided us with their expertise making helpful suggestions on what to use where.  When we were done they carefully wrapped our arrangement for the drive home.  Be sure to leave room in your vehicle.  My creation made the five hour drive in great shape.  

I have taken other tours through Busch Gardens.  This tour is a nice addition as I got to see yet another side of the park.  Kudos to whoever had the foresight to encourage the use of natural materials.  It fits with the company's conservation theme and the park's location near Colonial Williamsburg.

If you plan to go remember the tour can only accommodate five people at a time.
Our guide spoke to us about the use of greenery while standing in front of the Rhinefeld fountain.   Apparently when Christmas Town first began the fountain was decorated with all artificial materials.  One year the Grounds/Horticulture Department (correct name?) was asked if they could add some natural materials to the artificial decorations.  Everyone liked it so much they were asked to add more the next year.  So each year they keep adding more touches there and around the park. I got the impression (but I could be wrong) that at first the Christmas Town decorations were all artificial.  

The guide also explained how as part of regular park maintenance they prune the bushes and trees.  Someone made the decision to reuse the materials in the park.  Also someone recognized they have an abundance of land around the park that can be sustainably harvested adding to what was pruned allowing them to build additional arrangements.

The staff are a real asset to BGW.  It is heartening to see them allowed to exercise their creative talents to the benefit of the park and guests alike.
Yes, the park has progressively used more and more dried materials for Chrismas Town decor, as stated above, the North Pole display used to be the fountain cloked in white to make it appear as a mountain, but they then decided to put the dried material arrangement in the different fountain levels. Another example would be that they used to have miniature evergreens in the pots on the Ponte del Accordo bridge through 2012, but in 2013 they started to use dried material arrangements. However, although there were less dried material arrangements the first year of CT, they were still there, but they were consolidated to flower boxes, flower pots and hanging baskets that they kept out during CT. Most of the pots are taken backstage during CT and the winter so they can be planted for the spring, in some areas they are substituted with Christmas trees. They take down hanging baskets that may have decor around them that could prevent them from hanging properly, or ones in unimportant areas. In addition to that, some of the smaller beds such as the ones that are at the base of Big Ben have dried material arrangements in them now.

Anyway, this whole process actually isn't just out of conservation, nor is it an original idea by the park. It's actually an old fashioned horticultural tradition. You see, before all these ornamental plants and flowers were bioengineered to survive rougher winters, it was custom to use dried materials as outdoor decor, primarily in flower boxes, during the holidays. You don't really see it anymore, especially in this area. However, I think the fact the park chose to do it this way shows just how horticulturally advanced they are.
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