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Disney's Horticulture plants the holidays

Written by
Published: November 6, 2011 at 11:12 PM
Now, fall and winter might seem like a strange time to bring up gardening. But if you'll notice, this time of year, between Halloween and Christmas, the parks go under the most dramatic changes. Not just with decorations, but over the course of several nights, flower beds and gardens will change from fall colors to a palette of red and white, featuring hundreds of thousands in-house-grown poinsettias. Right now, Disney parks across the globe are working in the biggest landscaping transition of the year, preparing for the winter.

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Disney parks are like botanical gardens. It's pretty obvious when you notice the lush landscaping that permeates in all the lands. Most commonly noted is the famous Disney topiaries and parterres (a parterre is a bed of flowers that make a pattern or shape, like the Mickey heads in front of every Main Street train Sstation). The expertise of Disney landscaping is a long and proud tradition started by Bill Evans who landscaped Disneyland on a shoestring budget for it's opening day.

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Disney parks have a diverse landscape of themes, which demands a wide theme of landscaping. The Magic Kingdom and Disneyland alone have drastically different sections, from frontier to lush tropical jungles to quaint European village. Disneyland's Fantasyland features some of the most unique landscaping, from the long term hard to do topiaries outside of it's a small world to the bonsai style landscapes of Storybook Land. Magic Kingdom's Frontierland features tumbleweed desert landscapes, which are a challenge with Florida's rainfall that will easily kill such plants. Disneyland's Tomorrowland's landscaping looks to the future with function and style as all plants there feature edible parts. One of my favorite things is the Liberty Tree in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom. As a Texan, I have a love for great oak trees, and this tree is a crowning jewel. It is actually two trees grafted together, and while it looks nodded and natural, the tree was trained to it's beautiful shape. The tree is also the oldest thing in the park, estimated to be well over 150 years old.

Walt Disney World uses massive amounts of plants. Disney World has a vast system of green houses and experimental gardens hidden on property. Disneyland too has it's own greenhouses. What's more unique is Disneyland and Walt Disney World share plants. They ship plants back and forth, not wanting to waste perfect specimens. Disney World's horticulturist produce 10,000 hanging flower baskets a year, each with 10 or more in house grown plants. So imagine the number of plants they have to grow for the flower beds! Do you know how many seeds Disney buys a year? The answer is zero. Disney buys clippings of genetically ideal plants and grows those to form their plants. So next time you look at the American Rose garden in front of Cinderella Castle, remember those roses are genetically identical, sharing the exact same DNA.

Epcot is an exceptionally challenging park to landscape. Future World has it's own style with flowing beds and massive peterres. Living with the land features futuristic greenhouses where real research on growing techniques like aeropondics and hydroponics. To make it all the more amazing, all the produce grown is featured in the restaurants in the Land Pavilion, a theme park one of a kind experience. As cool as that is, World Showcase is a beast of it's own kind. From Asian bamboo rainforest, Norwegian sod roofs, to English tea gardens to French formal gardens, all these exotic places must flow from one to another, making each country unique but all part of the message unity. It's no wonder that Walt Disney World features over 300,000 species of plants from all around the world.

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Another unique challenge is Animal Kingdom. Disney has done jungles before, so that was not a problem, but landscaping the animal habitats were. The horticulturist for the first time had to consider things like something actually consuming their plants and what is toxic to the different animals. On top of that, they had to find plants to fit in the cages that matched the theming that could survive Florida weather and need little attention, because most horticulturist were not fond of going in places like the tiger habitat.

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The pinnacle of Disney's horticulture is the Flower and Garden Festival, which is as much a celebration of the artistic genius and know how of the 650 professional horticulturist employed by Disney as it is the beauty of nature. Epcot's already visually stunning landscaping that flows so well with the park is enhanced will little effort with brilliant exhibits on landscaping. People from around the globe travel to this plant paradise, looking to learn from the best of the best.

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So next time you are at Disney, take a break from the rush to ride or eat or beating hte crowd and take time to stop and smell the flowers. Or at least to look at them.

Readers' Opinions

From Skipper Adam on November 7, 2011 at 10:10 AM
Oh forgive my typo and incomplete sentence, all mighty grammar gods! I used spell check... but still not bad for a guy with dyslexia.
From Manny Rodriguez on November 7, 2011 at 9:40 AM
I have been to the flower and garden at epcot it is the most beutiful thing in the world so I suggest you go to it cause it only comes once a year I think they should have a chalk festival like they do in sarsota with Disney cartoons other such things
From Dominick D on November 7, 2011 at 10:14 AM
Tonight I'll be uploading the Cinderella Castle lighting from last night. Hope you enjoy it! ;)
From Amanda Jenkins on November 7, 2011 at 10:57 AM
I am always amazed at the plant life at Disney World. Having grown up out in the country and knowing the difficulty of trying to get trees, crops, and flowers to grow; I have a strong respect for the horticulturists at Disney. Great article Skipper!
From 166.137.10.68 on November 7, 2011 at 12:13 PM
Wow what a cool thing to think about. I've never really thought about the gardens like that but now I wool appreciate them so much more.
From Dominick D on November 7, 2011 at 8:44 PM
You Tube won't accept my video. I'll try tomorrow ;)
From 122.57.180.150 on November 7, 2011 at 11:22 PM
After visiting Disneyland we were inspired and came home and worked on making our garden more beautiful, but could never get the same fantastic effect of Disney Gardens, and of course all the upkeep to keep the garden looking that way! Good on you Disney Gardeners!
From Skipper Adam on November 8, 2011 at 11:05 AM
There is a gardening book by the Disney Horticulterist, that's where I got some of the facts from. It not only talks about the Disney gardens, but how you can replicate their techniques. It's a great read, and is full of wonderful images.
From Tim Hillman on November 8, 2011 at 11:45 AM
Great article, Skipper Adam!

So often on this site, we focus on the rides at Disney parks and forget about all of the other aspects that go into creating the theme park experience (the landscaping, the music, the maintenance, the great customer service; to name a few). Disney does an awesome job with the plants and the landscaping.

Every time I go to a Disney park, I see something that I wish that I could incorporate into the landscaping in my yard. Now that I know that there's a book out there, I just might be able to put thoses wishes into effect.

From Skipper Adam on November 8, 2011 at 11:50 AM
The books title is Secrets of Disney's Glorious Gardens. The ISBN is 0786855552-5.

I have a collection of 40 books on Disney covering about every aspect. Feel free to ask me book questions. Or Castmember questions.

From Brandon Mendoza on November 8, 2011 at 2:35 PM
Nice article! Btw, does anyone know what the park does with the plants they remove for the Holidays?
From Skipper Adam on November 8, 2011 at 4:02 PM
Disney does several things. If it is a good healthy plant, they keep in greenhouses. If the plant doesn't look like worth keeping they usually compost it. Plants that are indoors, at resorts and such, usually end up being sold to Cast Members after their prime.

Disney is both cheap and green, so nothing is really thrown out. At the worst, just sold.

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