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a wonderful whirl of color

ORLANDO — I love flowers and all styles of gardens, but I never knew that spending the day with 30 million blooms would make me feel like a kid again. Giddy with excitement and inspired by the containers, hanging baskets, topiaries and landscapes at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, I envisioned creating some of the same gardening grandeur back home.

Call me crazy, but why can't I pot herbs in a really big tea cup, hang a sweet fairy house in a tree or put a topiary on the patio? For that matter, why not grow tomatoes upside down or in a big tin trash can?

The good news is, it's all possible, says Eric Darden, horticulture manager of the festival. "We don't do a single thing here that you can't do at home. It's all about size," he says. Instead of a 20-foot topiary of a Disney character, make a small topiary using the same grasses, mosses, flowers and seeds. You can plant garden beds with the same mix of Rocky Mountain Orange geraniums or Bada Bing Rose begonias, you just probably won't plant thousands.

Florida's theme parks have always been a great source of gardening ideas, but Epcot's festival, which runs through May 31, is the garden tour of the season, and not just for garden enthusiasts. While we green thumbs marvel at the world landscapes and new varieties of bedding plants, our loved ones who are less enthusiastic about our passion can still find plenty to do. They might even be struck by Disney's magic with all things green and colorful.

"There is something for everyone in every garden," says Darden. For children, there's the magical Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden; a screened garden gazebo with more than 500 native butterflies flitting inside; play areas with swings and slides; and 50 topiaries of Disney characters. For the eco-interested, there are demonstration gardens of native and drought-resistant plants, composting, irrigation systems, hydroponics and recycling.

For the rest of us, there are 300,000 bedding plants in every color under the sun, 750 container gardens overflowing with flowers, herbs and vegetables, 45 flower towers of impatiens, 100 floating miniature gardens and around-the-world gardens.

New this year is the Fragrance Garden, which features plants used to create popular Guerlain perfumes such as Shalimar (which is derived from lemon, jasmine and vanilla). "Lift and Sniff" stations allow you to smell each fragrance, then see the floral, herbal and spice plants used. Perfumes are sold at a nearby shop in the France Pavilion, including Eau Glacee, which was created for the festival.

In the United Kingdom Pavilion, a delightful English tea garden displays large tea cups filled with plants used to make tea, including chamomile, peppermint, lemon and ginger root. Complimentary guided tours explain the art and history of blending tea plants. The azaleas, vibrant Nikko Blue hydrangea and pink hollyhocks will transport you to the English countryside.

My favorite is the fairy garden, where handcrafted fairy houses, topiaries of Tinker Bell and her fairy friends and other whimsical garden accents are displayed among the butterfly plants and flowers. There are daily activities for the kids, plus a fairy parade for children dressed as princesses and fairies. But on my visit there were just as many, if not more, adults wandering through the fairy haven, perhaps hoping to spot a tiny winged sprite among the petunias.

Gardens are magical, after all.

Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a Pinellas County master gardener. You can reach her at yvonnesgarden@gmail.com.

. IF YOU GO

16th Annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

The daily festival runs through May 31 at Epcot, Exit 62 off Interstate 4, and features millions of flowers, topiaries, landscapes, demonstrations and retail gardening items. The weekends feature top horticulturists sharing tips and techniques, plus evening concerts of pop music from the 1960s and '70s. All events are included with Epcot theme park admission ($75 for 10 and older; $63 for ages 3-9; advance purchase discounts are available). Availability is limited for some events, which are subject to cancellation. For a schedule and more, go to disneyworld.com/flower or call (407) 934-7639.

Special events

Through Sunday: Discover your gardening style presentation; meet TV gardening host Joe Washington. Evening concerts by Chubby Checker and the Wildcats.

May 8-10: Florida Farmers Market; meet garden writer and extension agent Tom MacCubbin and Guerlain perfume executive Raymond Western; flower show created by Florida Federation of Garden Clubs. Evening concert by Ricky Nelson.

May 15-17: Meet nationally known garden expert and TV host Melinda Myers. Evening concert by Jose Feliciano.

May 22-24: Meet Robert Bowden, the director of Orlando's Harry P. Leu Gardens. Evening concert by the Fifth Dimension.

May 29-31: Meet Randolph's Greenhouses plant collector Rita Randolph. Evening concert by Tony Orlando.

a wonderful whirl of color 05/01/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 1, 2009 7:34am]

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