Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival – Part 1

Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival – Part 1

This week we are continuing to build our library of all the exciting things Walt Disney World has to offer by exploring a seasonal event in Epcot!  It is almost spring time and that means warmer temperatures, sunshine, and new life.  All three can certainly be found at Epcot in the next few months.  This week the park begins hosting the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.  This may be the most beautiful event you will ever experience at Walt Disney World.  There is so much to see, but also a surprising amount to do.  That’s why we are dedicating two weeks to exploring this flowering festival.

Let’s get started with our Know Before You Go Essential Facts:

  • This seasonal event is held at Epcot
  • The event is included in your normal park admission
  • The event has been extended this year to 90 days
  • It runs from March 2 – May 30, 2016

 

Welcome to the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival!  This springtime event transforms Epcot from a theme park into an extraordinary garden.  Along with incredible topiaries and vibrant flowers, this event offers up some tasty food, live entertainment, and seasonal playgrounds for the kids.  The springtime is already a wonderful time to visit Walt Disney World, but this festival makes it one of the absolute best times of year to visit Epcot.  If you have been before or seen the pictures, you know how gorgeous the flowers are.  Today, we will talk about those blooming beauties, but also discover the rich harvest of experiences Disney has in store for you.

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There is actually so much going on with the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival that we are going to start today by grabbing our Passport for the event.  No, you don’t have to pay for this passport or wait 6 weeks for it to arrive.  Disney provides this passport and it has a full list of the gardens, kitchens, and activities that make up the festival.  You can pick one of these up in the park when you go.  Or, you can follow along with me today by clicking here to download the digital passport.  I have the link in this week’s blog, so if you are near your computer, go right now.  When you pull up the passport you will see a 15 page document that actually looks like a little passport!  The second page has a spot for you to fill in your personal information, a list of travel itineraries, and a checklist of this year’s topiaries.  While in the park, this is a fun way for you or the kids to make a scavenger hunt out of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival!   For our podcast today we will use this as our guide to explore all there is to offer.

So, let’s start with those incredible topiaries!  These are really world-class sculptures made out of plants!  This year there are over 100 topiaries to admire throughout the park, many recognizable Disney characters.  New this year, you will find Huey, Dewey, and Louie joining Uncle Donald and Daisy at the main entrance.  I’m pretty excited about this new addition.  I’m not the biggest Donald fan, but I’ve always loved his adventurous nephews.  Anytime Disney brings them into the parks it makes me happy.  The other new addition this year is Ranger Mickey and his friends, located at Future World East.  Of course, there are many returning favorites as well.  You can check the passport to see who you don’t want to miss.  My favorites hail from the United Kingdom pavilion and include Captain Hook and Tick-Tock Croc, as well as Winnie the Pooh and Friends.  These topiaries are not only larger than life, but they are full of such incredible expression and detail.  Remember, this is all done with plants!  So, how exactly are these masterful works created?  Well, let’s take just a minute to talk about that so you can really appreciate all the work that goes into each one.

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A Disney Topiary begins like any other Disney character, with a drawing.  These drawings are then fleshed out in small sculptures called maquettes.  Next, a sculptor welds steel rebar to craft the full size character while referencing the maquette.  The proportion and shape of the frame must be just right for the character to look authentic, but that’s not all.  These frames must also be engineered perfectly to support the weight of the plants.  When the structure is sound in both form and function, it is almost ready for plants!  Before that happens, some of the larger topiaries have irrigation systems installed within the frame.  Then the horticulturists go to work literally bringing them to life with plants.  They start by stuffing the inside of the support frame with sphagnum moss.  This allows the topiary to absorb needed moisture and also provide a bed for the exterior plants.  One of the plants of choice in the topiaries is called creeping fig, or ficus pumila.  This makes up the majority of the topiaries that you see.  Other plants like Mondo Grass, or alternanthera (also known as Joseph’s Coat), are used to create specific looks like hair or clothes.  The horticultural team takes small plugs out of the sphagnum moss and inserts these different plants.  If you are wondering how they keep those figs so tight and tidy, the secret is hairpins!  Next time you are up close to a Disney topiary, just imagine the number of hair pins it would take to keep all of those little plants in place.  After the pins are all inserted, there is still a lot of work to be done.  The topiaries you find in the park today have faces so lifelike you can almost forget you are looking at a plant.  To pull off this realism and give the topiaries a variety of color, the team uses dried mosses, palm fibers, and in some cases seeds.  The topiaries are watered daily and fertilized once a week.  Of course, this not only keeps them alive, but also causes them to grow.  So, the team is constantly pruning the growing plants with shears or even scissors when they need to get to a detailed spot.  The final product is a labor of love, engineering, artistry, and plant savvy!  Each topiary takes several weeks to construct and even longer to grow before it is ready for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.  Finally, the task of moving these green giants is not a small one.  Each topiary will average about 500 – 1,000 lbs, with some weighing more than 1,200 lbs!

So, when you get a picture next to topiary Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, you can appreciate all the hard work that went into creating each little Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, or Doc.  Before we move on from the topiaries, I want to mention that certain topiaries are illuminated nightly throughout the park.  If you don’t get them all checked off before the sun sets, don’t worry.  You can still see and appreciate many of them in a new light at night.  I bet you will take more pictures of plants than you ever imagined possible!  There is more to the festival than just the amazing topiaries though, so let’s move on.

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If you have kids in your group, the topiaries will only hold their attention for so long.  Eventually they will need to burn off some energy and there are places to do just that: two unique play areas have been created during the festival.  The first is called Cactus Road Rally and is located near Test Track.  This is a Cars-inspired play area with a canopied jungle gym that covers a desert themed mini-park.  Topiary Lightning McQueen and Mater are nearby, making a perfect photo op for the Cars fan in your family.  These topiaries are life-size and extremely impressive.  Now that I think about it, they may be two of my favorites.  Hmm, I have a lot of favorites don’t I?  Anyway, this is a great spot for parents to take a break while the kids run around, or a good distraction if the little ones are too short to ride Test Track.

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The other play area is new for 2016 and can be found along the path between the Imagination pavilion and the World Showcase.  I actually saw this area under construction the last time we were in the parks and I am glad to finally know what is going in!  This area will be the Music Garden Melodies play area.  The Fab 5 will be taking topiary form here with Mickey dressed as a bandleader.  As the name suggests, the area will be full of music, including music-themed plants!  Kids can go crazy playing on drums, chimes, or xylophones.  Or they can tackle some new state-of-the-art net climbers.  Another neat thing about this area is that it will light up after dark so you can visit anytime.  The Cactus Road Rally shuts down at dusk, so you will need to head over to Music Garden Melodies if you are looking to tucker the kids out before heading back to the resort.

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Kids will also love seeing Butterflies on the Go, the Purple Martins Garden, Backyard Habitat, and Nature Works Everywhere.  We don’t have time to talk about each of these today so be sure and check your passport for locations.  But let’s talk a little about one of the festival’s highlights, the butterfly garden.  Your kids may refer to this as Tinkerbell’s Butterfly House because there is a cute Tinkerbell Topiary outside the tent housing the butterflies.  When you walk into the white tent located behind Club Cool, you will be surrounded by fluttering butterflies.  This is a beautiful little garden with a variety of blooming plants and flowers for the butterflies to explore.  Kids and adults will love how close they can get to the butterflies.  This is also a fantastic spot for some close shots with your camera.  Some of my favorite pictures from our spring Disney trips have come from the Butterfly Garden.  In addition to admiring the beauty of the butterflies you can also learn about their life cycles and the annual migration of the Monarch Butterfly.  You can spend as long as you like here, but the earlier in the day you go, the better.  Crowds will build throughout the day making it harder to enjoy this peaceful little spot.  Oh, and the garden closes at dusk so there is one more reason to get there early in the day.

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Before we flutter along, be sure to check out the list of all the gardens on display this time of year.  You can find some wonderful gardens in both Future World and World Showcase.  One of my favorites is the Bonsai Collection in front of the Japan Pavilion.  This garden showcases some extraordinary Bonsai  trees.  The intricate detail and unique character of each miniature tree is fascinating to me.  I could spend a lot of time here just admiring these little living sculptures.  Another intriguing garden with a different flavor is the Pepper Fire Garden.  This garden is located inside the Land Pavilion and gives you a peek at the world’s hottest peppers.  The truly adventurous can see if they can take the heat.  Or, you can play it safe and just admire the beauty of the Floating Mini Gardens found in the ponds between Future World and the World Showcase.  There are 225 petite plots of flowers resting on top of the water in this area.  Walking by here is sure to bring a smile to your face.  Even better, you can actually take a monorail ride through Epcot and get a bird’s eye perspective of the Floating Mini Gardens.  Gliding along the monorail lets you take in many of the gardens throughout the park in a short amount of time.  Again, many of the gardens and topiaries are illuminated at night, making a day or evening ride worthwhile.

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If just looking at the gardens isn’t enough for you, then you need to head to the Festival Center.  This is the mysterious building located in between Mission Space and the Universe of Energy.  Once upon a time this was the home to some great rides, but that is a podcast for another day.  Nowadays, this space is only used for seasonal events like the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.  Even then, the Festival Center is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10 am – 5 pm.  If you happen to be in Epcot on the weekend and want to learn more about gardening, be sure to head on over.  Once inside you can see a film on the “making” of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival in the Garden Theater.  Or, listen to guest speakers on the Greeenhouse Stage from 11-2, the Fresh Epcot Stage from 12-3, the Spotlight Stage from 1-4, or the Festival Stage from 10-5.  You can even learn about the heritage of horticulture at Walt Disney World and see how it has played a key role in bringing Walt’s vision for the parks to life.  All of these presentations are complimentary and hosted by gardening, horticulture, and outdoor experts.  You can take the great tips and techniques you learn here and plant them in your own backyard when you get home from vacation.

If you want to green up your thumbs even more after visiting the Festival Center, don’t worry there is still more garden to explore.  For that, we will wait until next week.  Come back then and learn about the tours available during the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, the special events happening on Fun Fresh Weekends, the Garden Rocks Concert Series, and of course the food!

Hopefully today has cultivated your interest in the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.  I know I’m ready to go smell the roses and watch the butterflies!  Oh, and I’m definitely ready to start building my own Disney topiary in my backyard. Now begins the difficult task of deciding on what character, and even more difficult task of convincing Rachel to go along with this scheme.  It probably won’t help that she has to make me to mow the yard on a regular basis.  A Disney topiary would be a lot more fun than mowing though, so maybe I have a shot.  If you were to build your own topiary what would it be?  Leave us a message on our Facebook page or send me an e-mail to feedback@wdwrideguide.com.  Also, if you have any questions about the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival let me know this week and I will try to answer it in next week’s blog.

Thank you so much for joining me today and listening to me talk about plants!  This is certainly proof that I will talk about anything Disney and have a good time while doing so!  I hope you had a little fun following along.  Until next week, keep watering those plants and remember to make each day a ride worth taking!

 

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