Once the house lights go down on show nights, the action on Starlight Theatre’s stage commands the audience’s attention. But in the minutes and hours before the curtain rises, our flowering gardens and extensive landscaping often steal the show.
Just as a musical requires hard work behind the scenes to succeed, so, too, do the numerous beds, plants, hanging baskets, tree, shrubs and five acres of turf that beautify the Starlight campus. And while the public may only enjoy the blooming bounty from spring into fall, the job of maintaining it is a year-round commitment.
The three-person horticulture team at Starlight is led by full-time supervisor Clayton Williams, who is in his eighth year at the theatre. He is joined by part-time horticulturist Tyler Schyvinck, a theatre student at the University of Central Missouri, and intern Mac Adkins, a student at Johnson County Community College.
As soon as each Starlight season wraps in the fall, the horticulture team orders its seeds for the coming year and begins to germinate them in January in our greenhouse facility, a 3,000-square-foot hoop house provided by Kansas City Parks and Recreation. It takes about three months before spring’s cool-season flowers – pansies, calendulas, dianthus, snapdragons, ornamental kale and more – are ready to move from the greenhouse to acclimate to outdoor conditions, usually by late March.
“This year we germinated 500 seeds of each type of spring plant,” Williams said. “We always do our spring plantings from seed because it’s more cost-effective and yields more for the money. The greenhouse is also where our many tropical plants – palms, ferns, philodendrons and dracenas – spend the winter months.”
While the team also propagates annuals such as coleus, geraniums and lantanas for the nearly 50 hanging baskets that pepper Starlight’s perimeter, it calls upon outside nurseries to fill in gaps and provide all fall plants (mums and kale) because space and time to grow them are limited once the Starlight season is under way.
Once the spring and summer plantings are in place, the horticulture teams’ efforts turn to maintenance. Mowing, tree trimming, biological pest control, soil testing and watering are critical to keeping nature’s show growing and glowing.
“Just like raising kids, you want to pamper these plants and give them the best growth opportunities possible,” Williams said. “It’s inspiring when I see people interacting with our plants, whether it’s photo ops by the Helzberg Fountain or stopping to smell the citronella flowers on the adjacent hill. Each Starlight night, our work adds color to guests’ lives!”
So, when you’re visiting Starlight for a Broadway show, concert or private event this season, take a moment to stop and smell the Knockout roses – and breathe in the fresh air from our 29 annual beds, 46 hanging baskets, two rain gardens, thousands of tropical plants, shrubs and trees. Clayton, Tyler and Mac will thank you for it!