Natural and silk flowers highlight brilliant colors throughout theme park

In back from left, Armando Arteaga and Matthew Segura with, in front front left, Michelle Arteaga and Ava Rose Segura. Visiting from Salinas, they enjoy the hand-crafted silk flowers in Gilroy Gardens.
Photo by Marty Cheek

By Calvin Nuttall

Spring brings fresh vibrancy to Gilroy Gardens in the form of its Fantastical Flowers Celebration, a new floral attraction that highlights the dazzling blooms both natural and artificial. Running through May 29, the event features brightly colored blossoms and fun floral-themed food and family activities throughout the park.

Park visitors will discover the landscape transformed with blossoms big and small in every color of the rainbow. Guests encounter colorful beds full of spring foliage as well as larger-than-life silk flower sculptures created by master artisans. A human-size “birdhouse” greets guests as they cross over the flower-festooned Sycamore Bridge — and provides a backdrop for fun family photo ops.

In addition to enjoying the park’s more than 40 rides and attractions, guests can also discover spring-themed family games and activity stations where they can create colorful art, plant flowers to take home, and learn more about the life cycles of flowers, birds, and insects. Live entertainment is provided by “The Flower Buds” music show in an energetic, all-new interactive drumming and comedy performance. Restaurants and carts throughout the park will offer unique floral-themed food and beverages.

The attraction is laid out in five exhibits scattered across the 26-acre theme park. Each focuses on a different type of spring flower: California golden poppies, birds of paradise, camellias, sunflowers, and ranunculus (commonly known as buttercups).

Guests approaching the park entrance are greeted with the sight of an enormous, flower-bedecked archway wreathing the entrance, sporting a banner announcing the Fantastical Flowers attraction. The walkways within the park are flanked by smaller banners sharing interesting historical and botanical facts about flowers, such as the scientific name of the California golden poppy Eschscholzia  californica, the importance of the tulip industry in years gone by, and other tidbits of knowledge.

“Each year the gardens staff work hard to come up with new features for our guests,” said Jane Howard, community board member at Gilroy Gardens. “The idea for Fantastical Flowers actually came up working with the team that helped design and create all the lanterns for the Lumination (exhibit in 2016). The same company that did that also designed all of those silk flowers that you see all over the park.”

The company VYA, a Chinese lantern-making firm, furnishes spectacular events across the world with their hand-crafted silken sculptures. Lumination featured 30 enormous, illuminated silk sculptures designed to celebrate Chinese history and culture. The flower sculptures are constructed in a similar manner as the Chinese lanterns. The frame of the sculpture is steel wire and bands, shaped by hand for each flower. Each steel frame is then carefully covered in colored silk. Unlike the Lumination exhibits, however, the flower sculptures are not illuminated.

Photo by Marty Cheek “The Flower Buds,” musicians who are event gardeners, perform rhythmic drumming shows fun for all ages at Gilroy Gardens’ preview day.

Because it is still early in the season and due to the many storms that have swept across the area recently, many of the live flowers have not yet bloomed. Howard promises they will burst forth with color in the coming weeks. Gilroy Gardens’ lush landscaping provides an ideal backdrop for the floral exhibits. They bring extra color and vibrancy to the park grounds, which are already tailored to focus on the famous Bonfante circus trees and other beautiful plant life.

“This is early for them,” Howard said.  “And to have that extra rain to deal with made it a challenge to even get them planted. But luckily, Fantastical Flowers goes through the end of May, so people have plenty of time to see the flowers in full bloom.”

The intense storms this winter damaged some of the park’s towering redwood trees. Several were partially blown over in the wind. Luckily, nothing else was damaged, and the fallen trees were removed.

Despite the late bloom, Gilroy Gardens members who attended the attraction’s preview day March 18 were impressed with the colorful silk flower sculptures, Howard said.

“Most of the feedback we have received so far has been about the silk flowers,” she said. “Guests were so pleased with how wonderful those were. The only other feedback was, ‘Darn, I wish the planted flowers were larger and in full bloom.’ We wished so, too. Mother Nature didn’t cooperate this year.”

Parents visiting with young children particularly enjoyed the displays, including frequent Gilroy Gardens visitors Vanessa Castilleja and her family.

“It’s very nice,” she said. “It’s different. We’ve been members for three or four years, and the kids really liked it. They loved all the colors.”

Gilroy Gardens is also developing several upgrades and events later this year to join Fantastical Flowers. A new water play area for kids called Lakeside Splash will be installed during the next few months close to the larger water play area Water Oasis.

“We’re investing a couple million dollars in this new attraction,” Howard said. “The goal is to have it open by Mother’s Day weekend. In addition to that, adjacent to Lakeside Splash, will be a redo on one of our patio restaurants. It is going to be converted to a smokehouse restaurant.”

Park regulars who might be familiar with the venue’s traditional holiday production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will see a change as a brand new show will be performed.

In addition to opening new attractions such as these, Gilroy Gardens staff aim to increase its attendance numbers by expanding its marketing, Howard said.

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill resident and freelance reporter.