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Behind the scenes at the US Open: Landscaping

By Ashley Marshall
Sunday, September 06, 2015

Making the grounds at the US Open look vibrant and lush each fall does not happen by chance. It takes a lot of planning, a little luck and a tiny amount of trickery.

Leading that charge is Kieran Darcy, the landscape supervisor and designer at Garden World Keil Brothers. Darcy works closely with Ryan Ferrara, the courts and ground manager at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, to keep the facility looking its best when the world’s cameras are trained on Flushing Meadows.

Darcy manages an on-site team of between six and eight people. While the bulk of the planting and preparation takes place in the run-up to the tournament, the daily maintenance work is a full-time job for his gardeners throughout the two-week event.

Planning and designing typically starts in the winter, and a list of plants, shrubs and bushes is finalized more than six months before the US Open begins. Not only does Darcy’s team need to know what to order, but it has to know where it’s going to go. For example, vincas, the small violet flowering plants you will see in the open walkways between Courts 13 and 14, flourish best in dry areas with direct sunlight. By contrast, New Guinea impatiens thrive in dark areas and in damp soil, so you’ll spot them against the shaded northern edges of the outer courts, where they’re served by sprinkler systems.

More than 15,000 individual plants and shrubs are needed to decorate the US Open grounds. Many of the plants are grown at nurseries across Long Island in April and May while Darcy’s team fertilizes and prepares the grounds to where they’ll eventually be relocated.

Planting normally takes place over six weeks in July and August, but for Darcy to stay on schedule, many trees and plants need a little coaxing to cooperate at the right time. Take the crepe myrtle trees: Darcy’s team begins trimming back these trees in July – much earlier than normal – to ensure they are in full bloom during the tournament. Similarly, the New Guinea impatiens are cut in late March or early April to ensure the flowers are the optimal size during the tournament, and the vincas are planted later to make sure they look their best at just the time.

The plants, shrubs and trees on display are hard to miss. There’s the sweet potato arch – planted five years ago – that fans walk under when they first arrive at the US Open, in addition to boxwoods and ornamental peppers by the Court of Champions, summer annuals in planters outside Court 6 and Boston ivy covering the walls of Court 10. New palm trees adorn the area between the Heineken House and the practice courts and hanging baskets will decorate the outside of Arthur Ashe Stadium in the South Plaza for the first time.

“I think people are most surprised about the range of colors and the variety of plants we’re able to acquire,” Darcy said. “The best thing is being outside and seeing it all come together. It’s a big challenge, but it always gets accomplished.”

In addition to the public areas of the grounds, Darcy’s team designs and creates the on-court flower boxes inside Arthur Ashe Stadium and helps decorate the Chase Center hospitality areas and restaurants. His team also distributes a list of plants and flowers available to the businesses that purchase suites in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Think of it as a shopping list from which individual companies can choose from to customize their space. Some might request orchids and potted plants while others may pick chrysanthemums, hydrangeas, roses or succulents.

“No one could possibly realize the amount of work that goes into doing this,” Garden World Keil Brothers owner Chris Heicht said. “It’s what creates the sheer beauty of the grounds. Tennis fans always see what we do here and ask us if we can do that for them at their home.”