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Disney-Inspired Gardening

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Gardening inspiration blooms every spring during Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival. It greets visitors with friendly topiaries and spreads vibrant color around every corner of the park. This May, I had the treat of talking with Horticulture Manager Eric Darden about how he uses plants as both backdrops and focal points. It’s one of those vacation experiences you wish you could carry home. Yet without hundreds of thousands of plants and large teams of skilled workers, most of us just keep dreaming that our yards could look anything like a themepark.
Horticulture Manager Eric Darden
Epcot Flower & Garden Festival

Darden says, “One of the most common responses I get is, ‘Oh the plants at Disney are so beautiful, I wish I could do that at my house.’ My response is always, ‘Well you can, just don’t get confused by the scale.’ You’re not gonna want 350-thousand bedding plants, 250 hanging baskets or 700 containers. But you’d be surprised if at your front walk you pull out some shrubs in a little area and maybe get two flats of bedding plants. If you live in a cold climate, when it’s frost free, or even before that if you’re going to use violas or pansies, put them in. And then when it gets warm, put in something else. That really can improve the look of your house.”

Container gardening is another realistic starting point for many people who might not have a lot of yard space. Some of the Epcot baskets are simply spilling over in late spring with two tones of brightly colored geraniums. Darden says a couple of clay pots on a patio or near a backyard pool can also set apart your outdoor decor. Various types of containers offer alternatives for vegetable growing, as noted in some of the park’s more whimsical displays.
Most of us aspiring to create topiaries may not be ready to tackle welded steel frames and oversized scale. Yet, plant materials like sphagnum moss are readily available at most garden suppliers. If we live in a cooler climate than that of the Orlando area, English ivy might be an alternative to ficus. Darden says one of the tricks of the trade for covering a frame with ivy is to use numerous hairpins to secure the tendrils of plant material and give the piece a finished look. His crews not only place thousands of plant plugs into the moss, but they keep the sculptures sheared and use some growth retardant on flowers to keep them compact.
Darden says that while he wouldn’t describe the park’s growing practices as organic, the gardening staff uses a lot of natural practices. They’re especially careful to curb overuse of fertilizers and use natural products around edibles. “We use as many natural practices as possible. We don’t do scheduled sprays like we used to do years and years ago. If we have to spray, we start with soap and oils, that is the lions share of what we spray on our plants.”
Specialty gardens throughout Epcot incorporate subtle lessons on choosing plants for various climates, irrigation practices, vegetable gardening and planting to attract insects. Darden says visitors can either enjoy the plant decor unconsciously or dig into the wealth of information available for home gardeners, “We do encourage people to garden. And we think that we have a lot of our guests who come here and get inspired. We don’t think that, we know that because they tell us.”

While my daughters and I waited in line to meet Tinkerbell at Pixie Hollow, it was easy to take for granted the natural beauty all around us. After several long minutes of waiting in line with her mother for a coveted autograph, another little girl reached out and started playing with the delicate flowers in a nearby pot. Her mother strained with some difficulty to get the girl to move forward in the line, urging the importance of the long-awaited meet and greet. Soon she and others, including my girls, were trying to pick the flowers. Since they didn’t pick too many of the tiny blooms, I hope Darden would appreciate that even the youngest visitors were teaching parents to admire his handiwork.

Back at home, time for some Disney-inspired gardening.

Flowering Artichokes in Pixie Hollow

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