Character topiaries, unique gardens, and everything green? It must be time for the 19th Annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, which is currently in full bloom at Walt Disney World Resort now through May 20, 2012. This celebration of spring is the perfect excursion for Guests interested in brilliant botanicals as well as beloved Disney Characters. From live music to HGTV presentations and beyond, there’s plenty for kids of all ages to see and do. Epcot Horticulture Manager Eric Darden gave us the run-down on this year’s highlights.
Always a Guest favorite, this year’s entrance is graced with sculpted topiaries of classic Characters from Disney’s “Fantasia,” including the dancing brooms (with water buckets in tow!), hippos, gators, and, of course, Sorcerer Mickey atop a 12-foot mountain that mimics a scene from the film. Eric says, “The topiaries get better and better – they actually look like Disney Characters! This year we really wanted to blow it out, so we’re featuring 28 different ‘Fantasia’ pieces. There are so many, in fact, they all wouldn’t fit at the entrance … we had to go outside the turnstiles!”
Pixar’s finest return in plant form and this year you can cruise by Lightning McQueen and Mater at the Japan Pavilion. The new location syncs up with the storyline from “Cars 2,” wherein the piston-pumping duo flies to Tokyo for a race, but instead becomes embroiled in international espionage. Make a play date with “Toy Story 3” stars Woody, Buzz, and Lotso at the American Adventure Pavilion’s all-new Alphabet Garden, where Guests can spell the plants’ names with huge letter blocks like those the gang might play with at Sunnyside Daycare.
Other topiary delights include Fairies, classic Disney couples, the Fab Five (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto), Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Beauty and the Beast, Lady and the Tramp, and Snow White and the seven dwarfs scattered throughout the various areas of the Festival.
One of the gardens debuting this year is Haiti: Garden of Many Colors, a festive display where Guests can explore the art, flavors, and traditions of Haitian culture. The exhibit’s filled with high-quality products grown or crafted to raise awareness and create jobs after the country’s tragic earthquake several years ago, and Eric explains that there’s more behind the mango punch than meets the eye. “From showcasing the country’s top two commodities – coffee and rum – to Creole gardening that depicts how Haitians depend on growing their own food, we wanted this garden to serve a larger good by indirectly helping the people of Haiti. It’s a fun garden on many levels.”
Eric tells us the most popular garden – Bambi’s Butterfly House – draws more Guests than any Festival display ever has. “Imagine a 4,000-square-foot structure filled with butterflies and beautiful plants – adults are just as amazed as children because most people haven’t seen a butterfly go through its entire metamorphosis. Twice a week we get boards in with several hundred chrysalis pinned on them, and every morning 20 to 50 butterflies emerge … it’s spectacular.”
Mosey over to the Let’s Get Moving Garden, which features unique outdoor play structures so little ones can expend excess energy while giving parents a chance to take a breather. Thirsty? Stop at the English Tea Garden (located at the United Kingdom Pavilion) to see all the herbs, spices, and citrus-related plants that create some of the world’s best-loved brews.
Burgeoning green thumbs with a few hours to spare shouldn’t miss the Gardens of the World Tour, a Festival must-see. Actual Disney gardeners guide you around Epcot (mainly the World Showcase) for a quick education on the design of the gardens and the different plants used in each. “Guests come away with a much larger understanding of the gardens and hopefully have asked all the right questions about how we get things done.” The tour’s available on specific days and incurs an additional fee, so make sure to plan ahead.
HGTV presents a variety of themed weekends for Guests to enjoy – from plein air art and talks with Disney’s Animal Kingdom specialists to Florida’s best fruits and flowers. Plus, some of the most popular on-air personalities will be on hand at the Festival Center every Saturday and Sunday with landscape design and interior decorating tips, tricks, and techniques to make your home beautiful – inside and out. Some upcoming design stars appearing in April and May include Dan Faires, Meg Caswell, Monica Pedersen, Antonio Ballatore, Carter Osterhouse, Genevieve Gorder, and Brandon Johnson (the host of “My Yard Goes Disney”) – space is limited, so mark your calendars!
Backyard gardeners will also find daily programs, home and garden resources, and expert advice at the Festival Center’s Greenhouse Stage, HGTV Theater, Ask an Expert, and Planting Pointers (located between Universe of Energy and Mission: SPACE in Future World).
Visit the America Gardens Theatre at the World Showcase for the Flower Power Concert Series, which presents nightly musical entertainment under the stars. A partial listing of the featured artists includes Mickey Dolenz (lead singer of The Monkees), Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone, Chuck Negron (formerly of Three Dog Night), Paul Revere and The Raiders, and Chubby Checker and the Wildcats. (Entertainment subject to change, so please check the calendar.)
Of course, we’ve only mentioned a few of the Festival’s numerous events and displays, but you’ll soon discover there’s so much more to explore. We’ll leave you with Eric’s final thoughts. “For those who love gardening, this is the place to be. Everything we do, you can do – and we’ll tell you how to do it. It’s really not a secret … it’s just gardening.”