Guest Columnist: Katie Elzer-Peters
Whenever I travel I'm always on the hunt for pretty plants. It's what you do, as a gardener. Right?
This March my whole family spent spring break in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and I spent the whole spring break taking pictures of every. plant. in. Disney World.
The Epcot® International Flower & Garden Festival happens every year from March through May. A big highlight of the displays are the meticulously maintained topiaries--all characters from Disney and Pixar movies.
Visitors were greeted at the front entrance to Epcot by Daisy Duck at her farm stand. (Vegetables growing behind her included carrots, cabbage, mustard greens, various herbs, and more.)
The flowers at Disney are always spectacular, but there are even more gardens during this Festival. Usually with themes. This year focused a lot on backyard gardening and included vegetable gardening (with the urban farm vignettes pictured, below), habitat gardening, butterfly gardening, and gardening if you live where there's a low water situation. (More on that in a bit.)
Hens and Chickens making a green roof on top of the chicken coop. Is that a pun that is overused--hens and chickens with chicken-shaped pots, on chicken coops, etc.? Yes? Is it any less delightful? No. In fact, I don't think there was a sign on the plant, so only true garden nerds would get it anyway.
Also in this area: an aquaponic breakfast bar. There's a fish tank at the bottom of this big bar and a garden full of edibles on top. Because, why not pick your salad garnish from your dinner table?
Most of the topiaries were planted with the same combination of plants in varying color schemes. Creeping fig was common, as were alternanthera and ajuga. There were a few succulent-gardens related standouts, though!
Piglet's outfit in this Winnie-the-Pooh vignette is made of sempervivums.
In this large installation representing Disney's Fantasia the ostrich heads and hippo skirts are made from thousands of tillandsias.
My favorite use of a plant was not a succulent, but a grass, for Lady's hair in this scene from Lady and the Tramp.
There was an interesting alternative to the themes you typically see in children's gardens (alphabet gardens and storybook gardens are common) surrounding a playground installed for the festival. Mickey and Minnie topiaries were musically-themed, and the equipment was surrounded by a music garden.
Signs detailed the ways plants were used to make musical instruments. (Gourds turning into guitars and grasses turning into flutes.) There was a "horn section," where all of the plants had trumpet-shaped flowers.
And then there were the succulent drums.
I didn't make the connection, but they were cool repurposed planters.
The most succulents were on display in the Cactus Road Rally garden featuring topiaries from the Cars movies, which are set in the desert. (Because the topiaries weren't made of succulents I didn't take any pictures of those. Whoops!) There were some cool specimen plants, though!
They had several large variegated opuntias in planters and in the landscape.
Loved this rainbow-colored kalanchoe:
There were some mass plantings included, as well, putting to rest for visitors to sub-tropical Florida the notion that a lush look only comes from broad-leafed tropical foliage.
Spring break is an excellent time for a flower festival in Disney World because there are so many visitors moving through the parks, a lot of whom probably don't ever see gardens like this. It's a wonderful way to introduce people to the beauty and utility of plants. One of Epcot's large pavilions is called "The Land," and, predictably, it's my favorite. I love the boat ride through the hydroponic greenhouses. They showcase food crops from around the world, including agaves for tequila and this large dragonfruit plant:
The butterfly house showed carrots growing in a barrel, and I overheard several kids (and parents) exclaiming that they didn't know that was how carrots grew.
Listen, if it takes a trip to Disney for a child to learn about where his food comes from, so be it.
Recently one of our customers visited Disneyland and sent this dispatch:
"Attached, as promised, are two photographs I took earlier this month at Disneyland showing kalanchoes and other succulents used as "alien plants" outside one of the Star Wars rides.
They are even in bloom! Most were probably 5-6 feet tall.
I was VERY tempted to collect a leaf, but the Disneyland staff are like hawks."
The plant is Kalanchoe beharensis, and the use of it in the display shows that you can't just build a realistic looking world out of plastic. You really do need plants!