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Flower and Garden Festival
Have All the Flowers Gone?
The 2006 Flower & Garden Festival
by Debra Martin Koma
ALL EARS® Senior Editor
article originally appeared in the
May 2, 2006, Issue #345 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
I'm just back from the opening weekend of the 2006 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, and I know what you're thinking... You're thinking, it must have been awesome! It must have been great! You must have had a wonderful time! Tell us all about it!
Well, tell you about it I will, but I hate to say this... it wasn't awesome. It was OK; don't get me wrong. But as far as knocking my socks off? Eh. I've seen better.
I've seen better, that is, at Epcot itself in years past. This year, there are topiaries and there are flowers and there are exhibits and there are demonstrations but somehow they seem a little lackluster compared to what I recall from last year... and the year before, and the year before. There aren't as many roses for one thing, and the roses that are there seemed to be in poor shape -- brown-edged petals, a little droopy. Some of that could be due to the unseasonably warm, even HOT, weather we experienced that first weekend of the festival. But the care just didn't seem to be there.
Many of the country pavilions in World Showcase seemed to sport a significant shortage of flowers, too. Sure, there were the usual gorgeous gardens in Canada, but there was nothing extra-special along the walkway down toward Le Cellier. And yes, there were geraniums and cosmos and plenty of other flowers in Italy and in France, but again, nothing out of the ordinary. Some of the topiaries have been moved around to new locations -- nothing wrong with that, of course, but their absence wasn't filled by anything else -- there was just a big old "nothing new" where they used to be. And one truly inexcusable error, in my opinion at least, was that many of the elements of Japan's Shishi-odoshi, or "Clacker Garden," weren't working. If you've not seen this type of display before, here's how it works: running water trickles along various bamboo rods or tubes, causing certain bamboo to shift and tilt and strike the rocks or small gongs at random intervals. This creates an unusual and almost musical experience. I just love it. This year, on the festival's first day, however, at least three tubes were either stuck or improperly aligned, so that they were not operating as intended. I went back a few days later, only to find that a few other tubes were also stuck and not working. It was a little disappointing for me, a returning visitor, but perhaps those who have never been to the Festival before wouldn't have noticed anything amiss, or missing.
I'm not usually a negative person, and finding fault is not what my trip to the Flower & Garden Festival was about. So, lest you think I've turned into an old curmudgeon who can't see the beauty amongst the blooms, I will say that the Flower & Garden Festival is still a fabulous time to visit Epcot -- the park is beautiful, with added splashes of floral color, and nobody does topiary and gardens better than Disney.
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There are a few, but only a few, new things this year, beginning with the display located at the front of Epcot. You may have read that the Festival opened with the U.S. Postal Service introduction of a new set of Disney stamps. Called "The Art of Disney: Romance," this set of four stamps features famous Disney lovebirds: Lady and the Tramp, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and Prince Charming, and of course, Mickey and Minnie. The introduction of these stamps set the tone for the whole festival, the theme of which is "Romance" this year. That's certainly evidenced in the new topiary scene, "Crazy over Daisy." Brightly colored topiaries of Donald and Daisy are depicted as having just emerged from the "Tunnel of Love" -- a series of heart-shaped arches that frame the ducky duo sitting cozily in their boat. Bright red begonia heart topiaries accent the scene on either side. Closing out the scene on the back end is a very non-romantic Stitch topiary, who sends off exiting guests with a "Thank You for Visiting."
Also new is Tinker Bell's Fairy Garden, a children's play area overseen by the Peter Pan pixie herself, located along the Imagination Walkway. I thought the Tinker Bell topiary was beautiful, and the play equipment (slides, tunnels) was cleverly camouflaged by greenery, while children could play safely without fear of hurting themselves if they fell on the springy shredded rubber mulch that surrounded them.
Another new exhibit can be found over in Future World East. Growing Future Gardeners features whimsical scarecrows sporting Mickey Mouse t-shirts and funky gardening tools that will appeal to the littlest gardeners, as they explore miniature versions of plots that they might be able to plant with their families. My favorite was the "sensory garden," which encourages the planting of fragrant herbs to fill the air with scents such as mint and rosemary. Another innovative idea that might appeal to kids is the "salsa garden," in which you plant all the ingredients (peppers, tomatoes, onions) to make this savory condiment.
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Many of the exhibits from previous years may be found in new locations this year, like the troll topiary in Norway, and the dwarf topiaries in Germany. If you think an old favorite is missing, just look around -- it's likely to be there, just in a new spot. The water garden exhibit ("Water Garden Wonders"), complete with lily pads and goldfish, can be found along the Imagination Walkway, across from Tinker Bell's Fairy Garden. Just next to Tink's play area, is the "Tricks of the Trade" exhibit, which gives a behind-the-scenes look at how all those hanging baskets and topiaries are assembled. In one example, the bare wire form of a topiary ostrich shown alongside its foliaged counterpart allows you to see how Disney's horticulturists construct these living works of art, using sphagnum moss, colored ivy, and other plants as their medium.
The Fragrance Garden in World Showcase's France pavilion has returned once again, sponsored as in the past by French perfumery Guerlain. This garden again features topiaries in the shapes of the company's classic perfume bottles, as well as scent boxes that allow you to lift a lid and get a whiff of a perfume, while trying to figure out which essences were used to create it. Guerlain's L'heure Bleu, for example, is composed of extracts of carnation, iris, violet, anise and rose. If you really want to make some sense of the scents, there's a 20-minute tour (free!) daily at 2, 4 and 6 p.m.
The popular "SpaceNet," a structure for kids who love to crawl and climb, is in its usual location in Future World East, right next to the returning Minnie's Magnificent Butterfly Garden. If you love butterflies, you won't want to miss this spot, where you can actually walk among hundreds of monarchs, gulf fritillaries, zebra longwings and more. And don't miss the small chrysalis house, where dozens more winged creatures are waiting to spring from their cocoons.
Festival sponsor Home Depot is again presenting the Ultimate Backyard Garden Party adjacent to Morocco in World Showcase. With three distinctive sections (one for a child's birthday party, one for a backyard wedding, and the third for the ultimate luau-style barbecue), the display should generate plenty of ideas for those looking for something new to do in their back yard -- and if you have any questions, the helpful Home Depot staff are right there to answer them. Don't miss the wedding cake topiary in the Backyard Wedding area!
One of my favorite things during the Festival is "The Power of Flowers" bedding plants, which hug the banks of West Lake. While I may have felt that some areas of the Festival were lacking, these vibrant hues of reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, and whites in patterns of hearts and, no surprise, Mickeys, make for an eye-catching vista. As my mom would say, "It makes you glad you have eyes."
Not only are the bonsai back in the Japan pavilion this year, but they are back in two places -- both right along the water, framed by the imposing Torii Gate, as well as up by the pavilion's pagoda, Yakitori House. And if you like bonsai, don't miss China's version of the miniature, manicured trees. The Penjing exhibit is opposite the impressive, mist-snorting bromeliad Chinese dragon, which this year is situated in one of the pools in front of the Temple of Heaven.
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As usual, the Flower & Garden Festival affords visitors a chance to see and meet a series of guest speakers who specialize in various aspects of horticulture. This year the "Great American Gardeners" series, which is presented every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., debuted with Paul James, host of HGTV's Gardening by the Yard. Due to James's popularity, his talk was moved outside, to a seating area around the back of the Festival Center. Unfortunately, attendees had to sit in full sun, so that, while James was quite entertaining and informative as he answered audience questions, his audience was slowly being roasted. It made several spectators wonder why the event couldn't be held in the vacant and unused Odyssey restaurant, but James alluded to the fact that the following day might see the addition of umbrellas or fans or both for the comfort of the audience. When I walked by the area a few days later, though, I saw neither. If you're a hardy soul who doesn't mind the heat, you might want to stop by to see one of the upcoming speakers, which include: Roger Swain, former host of PBS's Victory Garden; Patricia Lanza, author of "Lasagna Gardening"; and Raymond Western, a Guerlain perfume specialist. But bring a mister and wear a hat and sunscreen!
If you're visiting Epcot during the week, Disney experts are on hand to share their tips at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Their topics range from flowering trees to container gardens to bamboo. Also in the Festival Center, experts from the University of Florida present their gardening ideas daily at 1 and 4 p.m., covering such topics as herbs, wildlife-friendly gardening and landscaping for the environment.
The Festival Center also houses a marketplace, with artists and garden merchants from around the country, such as watercolorist and ALL EARS® advertiser David Doss. This year's opening weekend also featured Dave Smith, director of the Walt Disney Archives, who not only signed copies of his book, "Disney: The First 100 Years," but gave talks on the relationship between Disney and stamps. (As an aside, on May 5, Newbery Award-winner Gail Carson Levine, author of "Ella Enchanted," will be on hand to autograph her new novel, "Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg.")
For those who want an even more in-depth look at the festival displays, a three-hour tour, Gardens of the World, is hosted by a Disney horticulturist on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (call 407-WDW-TOUR for reservations) for $59.
It seems that each year Disney does a little bit more to keep children happy during the Flower & Garden Festival. In addition to Tinker Bell's Fairy Garden, and the SpaceNet, there's the children's play area in World Showcase's Ultimate Backyard Garden Party. There are daily ladybug releases at 1 and 3 p.m. near the Outpost in World Showcase, and there's the Garden Railway Depot, over near the Germany pavilion's miniature railroad. And in upcoming weeks, there are special themed weekends geared specifically toward the younguns -- Characters in Bloom Weekend, May 19-21, and I Dig Bugs Weekend, June 2-4.
And if you're looking for some entertainment at the end of a long day of smelling the roses, don't forget the "Flower Power" concerts held at the America Gardens Theatre in World Showcase. Nelson (featuring Gunnar and Matthew Nelson, sons of the late '60s heartthrob Ricky Nelson) kicked off the series this year, and, to my surprise, drew big crowds. As one mom, whose daughter had planned their trip around the group's appearance, told me, "You don't like them because you're not a twentysomething girl." Sigh. No, I'm sure not. I didn't get the chance to see Nelson, but you can be sure I wouldn't have missed the show if one of the upcoming performers like Davy Jones of the Monkees, or The Turtles, or Paul Revere and the Raiders, had been onstage. These acts perform three times nightly, 5:45, 7 and 8:15 p.m., and lines form early -- if any of these are your faves, you may want to consider lining up at least a half-hour before showtimes, even if it's a performer that YOU don't think will be very popular. (I learned the hard way.)
Despite my feeling that some of the pizzazz was missing from the Festival this year, I did still enjoy my time ogling the orchids, peering at the pansies, and sniffing the snapdragons. In fact, I wish I could go back again before the festival is over... just to see if they've fixed that Clacker Garden!
(EDITOR'S NOTE: A friend who visited the Festival after I returned home reported to me today that she had seen a Disney gardener struggling to correct the problems with the Clacker Garden a day or two ago -- let's hope she was finally successful!)
The 13th Annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs until June 11. To learn more, click HERE.
For photos of the displays and exhibits, click HERE.
Share YOUR opinions on this year's Flower & Garden Festival in our Rate and Review Section.
2007 Dates for Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival: April 13 - June 3, 2007