- Fishing Excursions
- --Fantasia Gardens
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Other Fun Things
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- -- AllEars® Trading Cards
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- -- Photo of the Week
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- --Film Tips
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of the World
During my most recent visit to Walt Disney World (October 4-14, 1996) my friend and I took the "Gardens of the World" tour at EPCOT. (We had been trying to decide between this tour and the Treasures of the World architectural tour of World Showcase; since my friend is studying horticulture and had a great interest in the gardening and landscaping at Walt Disney World, we decided to the take the Garden Tour.)
We met our guide, Marc, and fellow tourists at the special desk near Spaceship Earth around 9:30 am. After introducing himself and talking a little about his current work and his background (he now works at the Disney/MGM Studios and before getting into horticulture had a background in art) we each introduced ourselves. Several members of the group were in the landscaping business, the others were either horticulture students, people interested in gardening, or Disney fans who were interested in anything Disney does. Before we left on the tour, each one of us was given a bookmark with gardening tips as a memento.
Since the tour concentrates on the gardens of World Showcase, we only made two brief stops in Future World on our way to the first garden. The first stop was directly south of Spaceship Earth, at a small lawn which surrounds the "EPCOT" name in shrubbery. Marc pointed out that this lawn was trimmed by solar powered robot lawn mowers, which continuously patrol the lawn, cutting the grass wherever it exceeds a pre-set height. Two mowers were at work, each of which was about 2 feet long by a foot wide, roughly in the shape of a large insect, with solar cells covering its back. The lawn was sloped, irregularly shaped, but beautifully mowed.
He also spoke a bit about the turf grass which is commonly planted around EPCOT. It is called "Emerald Green Zoysia" and is suited for a very hot climate with long periods of strong sunshine. It does, however, require frequent cutting, and he did not recommend it for the home gardener.
The second stop was at the floating gardens in the waterway near the World of Motion/GM Test Track building and the Odyssey restaurant. Marc explained how they were constructed, and gave us tips on how to make such planters on our own and take care of these floating gardens.
At each stop in World Showcase (we started at Mexico and worked our way clockwise around World Showcase Lagoon to Canada) Marc pointed out the particular plants and landscaping features that helped to create the effect of actually being in the particular country. He went into some detail describing which plants were actually native to the various countries, and which were "look-alikes" chosen because of their resemblance to the plants which were from the various countries but could not be adapted to grow in central Florida. In the case of Mexico, some of the tropical plants could not withstand the occasional freezes, and special heaters were installed to help them through the cold patches. Because conventional heaters would simultaneously dry out the plants, these heaters also restored moisture to the air around the plants, helping them to survive.
The opposite problem was solved in the Norway Showcase, which contained look-alikes for trees that could not grow in Central Florida's heat. Local slash pines substituted for trees typical of a Norwegian Forest, and Emerald Green Zoysia (left to grow much longer than elsewhere in EPCOT) provided the turf roof over the Kringla Bakeri Kafe.
Marc walked us through the Chinese Garden, and pointed out several features which he asked us to compare when we later would see the Japanese Garden. Generally, Traditional Gardens in China play a more background role to Buildings, which are decorated in bright colors, than is the case in Japan. The plantings are somewhat more naturalistic than Japanese Gardens, and contain much less movement. (He particularly contrasted the quiet pool in the Chinese Garden against the moving water element in the Japanese Garden.)
A notable feature about the German Showcase was the use of many potted plants (especially geraniums in window boxes) which helped to establish the feeling of a German Village square.
Marc pointed out the grape arbor in the Italian Showcase (next to the statue/fountain which resembles a small part of the Trevi Fountain in Rome) as well as the grove of olive trees.
At the American Adventure, Marc explained that the predominate theme was a colonial Philadelphia style of gardening (in keeping with the architecture of the building housing the American Adventure, which borrows from Federalist architecture, notably Philadelphia's Independence Hall). The trees planted among the seats of the outdoor theater in front of the Lagoon have been trimmed to enhance their canopy effect, thus providing shade to audiences.
Marc also explained that the several large trees in front of the American Adventure had been moved from other areas of Walt Disney World, and he briefly described the process by which their root balls were kept intact while they were lifted by cables attached to temporary pegs drilled into their sides. He also explained how more average sized trees can be safely moved with similar, but scaled down techniques. He added that the roots of these particular trees extended far below the apparent bottoms of the "planters" in which they appear to be planted.
Marc pointed out the features of the Japanese Garden, especially contrasting it with the Chinese garden. Compared to the Chinese Garden, the Japanese garden contained more movement and more striking features, with the buildings playing a more subsidiary role, blinding in the plants.
Aside from palm trees, the Moroccan Showcase featured an irrigation system typical of traditional farming techniques in North Africa (which make use of channels which carry water to various quadrants of a planted field.)
At the France Showcase, Marc described the history of Parterre Gardens, those gardens with short, closely trimmed hedges planted in geometric forms and (in the case of the one in front of the perfume shop near the waterway that separates France from the United Kingdom) surrounded by crushed stone to set off the geometric shapes. He also pointed out another Parterre Garden alongside France, near the International Gateway entrance to EPCOT. (this one is planted on a hillside, and has colored flowers within the hedge forms.) He added that the famous portrait in flowers of Mickey Mouse in front of the Magic Kingdom is another form of a parterre.
The United Kingdom Showcase contained several gardens. Marc showed us a butterfly garden, a knot garden, a garden maze and a city garden reminiscent of Hyde Park in London. The butterfly garden contains plants which particularly attract butterflies (it also contains a Chrysalis Box, in which emerging butterflies can be observed). The knot garden consists of low hedges trimmed to look as if they go over and under each other, resembling knots in a rope. Herbs are planted in the spaces between the hedges (making this also an Herb Garden).
The United Kingdom area contained several forms of topiaries, which gave Marc an opportunity to describe the three basic types of topiary: geometric, frame trimmed, and sphagnum filled frames. Some of the geometrically shaped trees in the Hyde Park style garden are examples of the geometric style (in which shrubs and trees are simply trimmed), others are examples of frame trimmed topiary (in which a frame surrounds the shrub which grows through the frame and is trimmed around it). The figure of Mary Poppins in the center of the garden is an example of a sphagnum-filled frame topiary (in which a frame is filled with sphagnum moss and then covered with a fast-growing vining plant such as creeping ficus); there are approximately 150 other sphagnum-filled topiaries throughout Walt Disney World.
The Canada Showcase was our last stop. Marc pointed out the features of the Victoria Gardens (which is modeled after Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, and was planed on the site of a limestone quarry by the quarry owner's wife) as well as the vegetation growing on the "Rocky Mountain." Marc described the containers which hold the various plants, and how they are maintained.
As an added surprise, he then took us "backstage" behind the Canada Showcase, to show us exactly what he meant. It was quite a thrill to walk through one of the >>>fabled "Cast Members Only" doors and see behind the magic. (We were asked not to take any photographs or videos.) In the case of Canada, backstage looked rather park-like, with lots of lawns and trees, as well as several gardening sheds and service roads. The Mountain (which, of course, is visible from all directions) stops abruptly at a height of about 5 feet from the ground, and looks like a (gasp!) building. The immediate rear is not visible from within EPCOT or any other guest area, and from that vantage point we could see the various tub-like containers which contain the soil and plants which grow on the surface (on-stage) of the Mountain. After a chance to ask some final questions, we were escorted back on-stage and said good-bye to Marc.
The Gardens of the World Tour costs $25 per person and lasts approximately 3 hours, with rest stops. I'd recommend it highly for anyone interested in horticulture or landscaping, or anything Disney-related. It provides a terrific opportunity to stroll through most of World Showcase while it is still closed to the general public, thus affording great opportunities to study details and take pictures without the distraction of crowds of people.
Part of the focus of the tour is to give guests an idea of how they can adapt Disney design concepts to their own gardens (even in other parts of the country). The professional landscapers in our group asked the bulk of questions about how specific plants were maintained, but many "beginner's" questions were asked and answered as well.
We crossed paths with the Treasures of the World architectural tour which now consists of three separate tours: World Showcase East, World Showcase West (two hours each) and all of World Showcase (5 hours). According to the information I saw at the time, the two-hour tours require guests to pay their own admission to EPCOT; the "grand tour" of World Showcase does not require separate admission. (The Garden Tour requires guests to pay their own admission to EPCOT.)
As an aside, Marc mentioned that tours of the Walt Disney World nursery facility are given every year in conjunction with the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Show (advance reservations are suggested). In addition, a 45-minute tour of the greenhouses at the Land Pavilion is given several times per day; same-day arrangements for this tour can be made at the reservations desk on the ground floor of the Land pavilion.
Other Tour Reviews:
Disney's Hollywood Studios