Monthly Archives: April 2015
Monthly Archives: April 2015
Living in Orlando, I’ve felt a little weird when people from other states think of my town as synonymous with Disney. Twenty-one years into my tenure, I’ve only been to Disney three or four times, and I’m deeply immersed in the food, public parks, creative professional community and lake life that make Orlando such a great place for locals. I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve been avoiding Disney, but my lifestyle hasn’t been aligned with the Mouse, either.
A couple years ago, garden writer and slow flower advocate Debra Prinzing was in town because she was teaching a workshop at the International Flower & Garden Festival, and we got together for dinner. Epcot is one of the most-visited Disney parks (DIsney’s Central Florida parks include Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Disney Springs), and hearing Debra’s perspective on Epcot as a flower mecca shifted my thinking.
“The plant displays are over-the-top creative and fun. It is so inspiring to see real plants used in innovative ways at Epcot. Yes, there’s a lot of technology in use, with animated scenes and mechanical activity happening everywhere you look. But then, you walk by the larger-than-life Mickey and Minnie topiaries showcasing a gorgeous plant palette or enter the interactive butterfly display house . . . and all of a sudden, you’re in a magical arboretum,” Debra said.
Had I been overlooking the masterpiece in my backyard?
Debra was also impressed by the lengths to which the staff went to support the authenticity of her program.
“My talks about the Slow Flowers Movement and sourcing flowers locally required the Epcot team to source all Florida-grown flowers and greenery. The team went to great efforts to buy from small, area flower farms, which I know helped those farms tremendously. And as a huge bonus, I was able to use plant cuttings from Epcot‘s own greenhouses for my design demonstrations,” she said.
Gardens. Authenticity. Disney. Really?
I spent a day at Epcot this past November and toured the park with Heather Will-Browne, an area manager for Epcot’s horticulture department. Heather was the first woman to join the horticulture staff (in 1974), and knows the park inside out. She’s responsible for ordering the 3 million seedlings that flourish in Epcot’s gardens year-round, including that extra flowery time, the International Flower & Garden Festival, which runs seventy-five days from March 4 to May 17, 2015.
“Everything has to be ordered six months in advance so the plants are ready to go in the ground when we need them. We have seasonal color schemes that inform the ordering choices for bedding plants,” she explains.
The January and March change-outs emphasize pink flowers; in June the color scheme gets hotter with the weather, and red dominates the color palette; in fall there’s an appealing mix of lime green, purple, orange and black; and the December holidays will call for more red.
“Color is important, but I’m always looking for varieties of plants that are new or interesting, and we also have certain themes we’re ordering for. For example, for the Flower & Garden Festival, we’re doing more veggies now, so some of the beds have vegetables and herbs instead of blooming annuals,” says Will-Browne. “The edibles have to reflect the ingredients of the seasonal menus that will be current during the festival, so we coordinate with the culinary staff. Everyone is coordinating all the time—we can’t make isolated decisions and then expect it to all come together.”
We walked through every part of the park and Heather educated me on the inspirations for each designed garden area (it turns out that Epcot’s Canada, France, Japan, Italy and the rest were created with garden references originating in each of those real countries).
The result of my day with Heather was trifold: I wrote a piece for GROW magazine, one for Playground, and another for Orlando Home + Garden, each with a different take on what Epcot has to offer to visitors during the festival, focused on the interests of the audiences that read each publication. I also came away with a completely fresh perspective on Disney.
That may sound like hyperbole, and it does demand some explanation, but the bottom line is that the magic of Disney finds its source in the trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials that thrive here. These plants contribute in no small way to themed features and create a lush backdrop throughout Disney’s forty square miles of parks and resorts.
I liken Walt Disney’s original concept for his Florida theme park to the way a visionary landscape architect like Olmsted would have thought about Central Park.
“It’s something that will never be finished, something I can keep developing, keep ‘plussing’ and adding to. It’s alive. It will be a live, breathing thing that will need changes … Not only can I add things, but even the trees will keep growing. The thing will get more beautiful year after year. And it will get better as I find out what the public likes,” Disney said as Walt Disney World was being developed.
Disney understood that success was dependent on enduring public support for his projects, in the form of cultural influence, accumulated memories, and money spent. This applies to parks of all kinds in the private and pubic sectors. The challenge of maintaining interest and support has been either the glory or the downfall of parks the world over.
Why? As pioneer landscape architect Lawrence Halprin said in a discussion about his Skyline Park in Denver, “…places which are either park-like or ephemeral, that is to say some plantings [sic], are very vulnerable to people’s ability to get rid of them, knock them down…they’re terribly vulnerable, much more vulnerable than buildings or structures or pieces of engineering.”
Vulnerability is a double-edged sword, and a challenge can be an invitation to work tirelessly to achieve greatness rather than a path to ruin. While Skyline Park was demolished after years of neglect, in Disney World’s case, Disney effectively conveyed to his successors (he passed away before the project was completed) that this living, breathing thing would need to be maintained and reimagined constantly. He bred his infectious position on stewardship in every cast member, which is why the Disney brand is such a force of nature today.
My friends at DutchGrown.com are sponsoring SUCH a fantastic giveaway this month, valued at $100. I only wish it made sense for me to enter myself, because I covet bulbs like nobody’s business. But where I live in Florida, most of these bulbs just won’t make it. For those of you in the right zones, here’s what’s on the table: