Topiaries star in Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival

By the numbers

14Feet, the height of Goofy, the tallest character topiary ever created at Epcot.

25Types of plants, grasses and mosses used to create festival topiaries.

60Tons, the combined weight of the plant materials in the topiaries.

100+Topiaries displayed throughout the park.

600Horticulturists needed to install the festival landscape, topiaries and exhibits.

100 Horticulturists maintain topiaries and other displays.

Source: Walt Disney World

If the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is a rite of spring in Florida, then the topiary is its icon.

A topiary of a Disney character, preferably one of the "fab five"— Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy or Pluto rendered to the smallest detail — to be precise. The park's legions of gardeners are nothing if not precise.

"Our goal is to get better every year," says Eric Darden, the horticulture manager for the festival.

To that end, you may think there's something, well, improved, about this year's topiaries as you stroll through Epcot. Darden, however, is quick to correct you. Even though more color has been added to them, the topiaries this year aren't necessarily better, but their placement is.

"We did think about backdrops more," he says, acknowledging that maybe a few of last year's topiaries weren't in prime locations. "We need to put these where the guests can see them easily. We thought more about the environment they were going to be in."

Epcot's guests — most of whom don't come specifically for the festival — will definitely appreciate the detail that goes into the creations, which begin when a Disney artist designs the figure. A welder then turns it into a frame, which is stuffed and planted by a gardener. Features such as a character's face are created using various mosses, palm fibers and seeds.

There are more than 100 topiaries in Epcot.

"It is the guests' favorite part of the festival," says Darden, himself a former topiary crew foreman. Ask him about the labor that goes into your average topiary and he'll gladly tell you — with relief — that the sphagnum sculptures are no longer watered by hand. Now they have drip tubes attached to their rebar frames.

"They are kind of like your yard in that there are different irrigation zones," Darden says. The bottom line: no more individual soaking of each character's body parts.

This year, two of the most visible topiary "sets" are at the entrance to Epcot and in the World Showcase Plaza. Donald Duck and friends, including a tall, fly-fishing Goofy (guess where his hook landed), celebrate the outdoors as you enter the park. Farmer Mickey and Farmer Minnie tend a garden in an American Gothic-influenced scene. Both scenes inspire guests to pose and snap away.

"When you have a queue line, that's the ultimate compliment for us," Darden says.

How about a guest asking if he can take a topiary home? Certainly that's high praise, too?

Darden says it happens all the time. He has a stock answer, perhaps born of spending 30 minutes watering the arm of Goofy or helping nurture the creations for months in a Disney nursery.

"I wouldn't give a topiary," he says, "to my worst enemy."

Peter Couture can be reached at pcouture@sptimes.com.

. If you go

Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

The 17th annual festival runs through May 16 at Walt Disney World Resort, 1515 N Buena Vista Drive, in Lake Buena Vista. Both the festival and the weekend Flower Power concert series are included in regular Epcot admission: $79 adults, $68 kids 3-9. (407) 824-4321;

disneyworld.com/flower.

On the Web

See a cool time-lapse video of one of the topiary installations at bit.ly/bPK39q.

Topiaries star in Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival 03/17/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 22, 2010 4:00pm]

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