Epcot Flower & Garden Festival: It’s all about the princesses

Giant topiaries don’t grow on trees — not even at Walt Disney World.

That sure would make things simpler than the current system, a months-long process that involves metal frames, specialized irrigation, meticulous trimming, thousands of hair pins and mounds of moss.

The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, which begins March 18, will gather more than 50 of the statues of greenery. They’re so plentiful, Disney established an official scavenger hunt for them.

Front and center of the festival will be the “Cinderellabration” area, featuring topiaries of Cinderella, Prince Charming, Belle, Beast, Snow White, seven dwarfs and, making their debut, Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip. They’ll be standing where the giant, surfing Goofy did last year.

“We wanted a whole different feel — the elegant, flowing dresses,”says Eric Darden, horticulture manager for the festival.

To create that look, the outline of each topiary the topiaries is formed by a metal frame. The finished product is not solid foliage straight through: A space of 3 to 5 inches is stuffed with moss and supported by an internal cage. Being hollow helps keep down the poundage.

“We probably cut out 1,000 pounds of weight,” Darden says. “If it gets heavier and heavier, you have to make the frame stronger.”

Plant life is then pinned to the moss.

“We may be the world’s largest user of hair pins,” Darden says.

Disney topiaries have progressed past their all-green predecessors. Now all manner of natural materials is used, especially to convey facial expressions of characters. “It makes them look alive,” Darden says.

A trip to the Tournament of Roses Parade in California inspired Disney officials.

“We were at a point where we had gotten as far as we could with living plants, but we really wanted to get the detail,” Darden says. “That really got us exploring that world of dry materials. Then we had to determine ‘Can we make it last?’ “

The short-term solution: shellac.

“We’ll have to fix it,” he says. “Birds pull it out.”

“I think the ultimate place we’d love to get would be to have different colored seeds. That’s what they do for the Rose Bowl [parade]. But the Rose Bowl has to last for one day. We have to have things that last three months.”

For now, topiary color is provided primarily with foliage, not flowers.

“If it gets real cold in the second week of the festival, and we have something blooming, all the flowers will go away,” Darden says.

This season’s cold snaps have been a challenge for festival planners.

“It was a challenge, but you have to be ready for it,” Darden says. “Of course, it’s had an impact. Are our guests going to notice? No.”

Blooms of note

** The mist-breathing Bromeliad Dragon returns to lily pads outside China’s Temple of Heaven after a three-year absence.

** The 44 towers of flowers, previously sprinkled across Epcot, will be lined up near Spaceship Earth.

** Expect more — and larger — floating gardens in the East and West lakes.


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