For the first time in over two years, I waved goodbye to the neighbors, lavished the pup with goodbye belly rubs, and boarded a plane. Just like the winning Superbowl quarterback, I was headed to Disney World.
Yes, this spring, for the first time ever, I went to Walt Disney World.
Why this year, I’m not really sure – it just felt like the time was right for an adventure. An adventure that included visiting a close friend and the opening week of the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival.
Day one, entering the EPCOT gates, we were greeted by Luisa from the animated movie Encanto. Her character is strong, and her topiary is imposing in size but beautiful. Her skirt is made of ajuga, that same ajuga I love but many gardeners consider invasive. On this day, it was in bloom, and the color was bluish, just like her skirt in the film. Disney does not disappoint in the details.
Walking past Luisa, it is hard not to be overwhelmed. Flowers are everywhere! Name a Disney character, and I bet they had a topiary. We saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Buzz and Woody, a 14 ft Goofy, and butterflies- the most beautiful floral butterflies.
Almost 100 topiaries are on display this year. The kid in me wants to run around and look at them all (and we did!). The gardener in me wants to know how they do it- create them and care for them throughout the months-long festival.
The Walt Disney World Nursey grows and cares for all on-property plants, including any plant structures made for special events. Trust me, the International Flower and Garden Festival is a special event.
As with all things Disney, they have taken the art of creating topiaries to a new level using four different types of designs.
Free-form topiaries are from plants that have been shaped using garden sheers to trim the excess, creating shapes such as circles and squares. Standard topiary forms begin with plants that are allowed to grow to a certain height and then pruned to look like small trees.
Shrub topiaries can take years to fulfill their design. A sculpted metal frame is used to assist the plant in shaping as it grows. Depending on the shrub or plant used and its growth rate, training for these shapes is a practice in patience.
Sphagnum topiaries begin as heavy steel forms, then are filled with sphagnum moss and vining plants. These are the most common among the Disney topiaries.
My favorite of all the topiaries was “Lady and the Tramp” in the center of the Italy Pavilion. These pups are filled with sphagnum moss and then planted. Lady’s ears are Mexican feather grass, and her fur is creeping fig. Reindeer moss and palm fiber eyebrows give her a soulful innocent look.
What begins as an idea and a collaboration of horticulturalists, Disney Imagineers, welders, architectural engineers, and artists becomes a living art piece. This also means an irrigation team is needed to install a hydration system within the frame to keep the plants watered through the hot Florida summers.
All the decorative materials are natural. They do receive a finishing touch-up of paint to blend the plant materials and give them a little Disney magic.
From the topiaries to the discreet caretakers, the gardens of EPCOT were amazing. So were the Honey Bee-stro, the Floating Gardens, the Bold Bromeliads, and the Extraordinary Orchids. I’ll save a few special treats to talk about another time.
After a few rides and my first ever Dole Whip, our day at EPCOT ended with an outdoor concert, then Harmonious, a firework display honoring the movies and characters of Disney.
Day two was a visit to the Magic Kingdom. No way would I miss a chance to see Main Street USA and Cinderella’s Castle.
The day was filled with parades and rides. I rode a rollercoaster, took a jungle cruise, searched for pirates, and floated through It’s a Small World. Oh, and I had another Dole Whip.
Standing in front of Cinderella’s Castle, with lights, fireworks, and Tinkerbell flying through the sky, in this moment, Disney is the most magical place on earth. I have forgotten the money spent, the miles of walking, and the sea of strollers. I am caught up in the moment.
This spontaneous trip was years in the making. I’ve been lucky enough to have had an open invitation to visit but have never committed to a date until this spring. Then one minute, it’s a familiar thought. The next I’m booking airline tickets.
It was a whirlwind few days -a reminder to travel more, see new places, visit new gardens, have new experiences, and spend more time with friends. It is a small world, after all.