I’m not a gardener, but there’s just something about Epcot’s annual Flower & Garden Festival that makes we want to go out and plant things. The gorgeous blooms never fail to inspire – and this year’s Festival, called Epcot Springs to Life, was no exception. The 2011 Festival, which ended May 15 and ran for 75 days, was a tour de force, featuring dozens of free gardening and outdoor decorating seminars (many led by HGTV personalities), more than 100 whimsical topiaries, an expanded butterfly garden, a Tinker Bell fairy garden, an English tea garden, 11 classic rock and pop musical groups in concert, fabulous shopping opportunities, and much, much more. So let’s dig in to the wrap-up. (Get it, “dig,” like in a garden – oh, never mind.)
2011 marked the first year HGTV partnered with Epcot to sponsor the Flower and Garden Festival. A featured component of the sponsorship was a series of seminars presented by 11 of HGTV’s designer/performers:
March 4-6: “The Art of Sculpting Space” — Genevieve Gorder (HGTV Design Star and Dear Genevieve)
March 11-13: “Design It Yourself: Easy-to-follow Tips for Designing Your Favorite Rooms” — Lisa LaPorta (Designed to Sell)
March 18-20: “The 5 DIY Secrets That Can Transform Any Space” — Kim Myles (Myles of Style)
March 25-27: “Mobile Gardens” — Brian Patrick Flynn (Design Happens, HGTV.com)
April 1-3: “Adding Value to Your Home without Breaking the Bank” — Taniya Nayak (Designed to Sell and Destination Design)
April 8-10: “Life, Love and Landscaping” — Ahmed Hassan (Yard Crashers)
April 15-17: “Gardening with Kids: Fun Seed Starting Projects” — Patti Moreno (Garden Girl, HGTV.com)
April 22-24: “Creative, Back-to-Basics Style for All Things Natural and Decorative” — Michele Beschen (B. Original)
April 29-May 1: “The Design Process: Curb Appeal Projects from Concept to Construction” — John Gidding (Curb Appeal: The Block)
May 6-8: “Beautiful on a Budget: High Style, Low Cost Secrets to Bringing Indoor Styling Outside” — Frank Fontana (Design on a Dime)
May 13-15: “Top Design Trends Made Affordable and Accessible” — Vern Yip (HGTV Design Star)
All presentations were given in the HGTV Festival Center which was located in the former Wonders of Life pavilion in Future World. Seminars were presented twice each day and were included with the price of your Epcot admission. Nice!
Also on the Festival Center stage were additional seminars presented by nationally recognized gardening experts:
March 7-10: “Passalong Plants” — Felder Rushing
March 14-17: “Grow Great Grub” — Gayla Trail
March 21-24: “10 Heirloom Plants You Should Be Growing” / “New & Exciting Plants for Every Garden” — Danielle Sherry
March 28-31: “Secrets of the Garden Revealed & More Plants For Free” — Ken Druse
April 4-7: “Four Season Garden & Proven Combinations” — Erica Glasener
April 11-14: “Container Gardening: From Dirt to Design & The Secret to Combining Plants” — Steve Aitken
April 18-21: “Year-round Garden-tainment” — Melinda Myers
April 25-28: “Herbal Blends from Around the World” — Susan Belsinger & Tina Marie Wilcox
May 2-5: “The Small-Budget Gardener” — Maureen Gilmer
May 9-12: “Slow Gardening” — Felder Rushing
Still more free presentations in the Festival Center included “Groceries from the Garden,” “Gardening for All Generations,” “Gardening in Miniature,” “Fun Holiday Projects,” “A to Z on Herbs,” and several others. For those needing individualized gardening suggestions or advice, representatives from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences were on hand each day to answer individual guest questions. There’s that personal attention Disney is famous for.
Topiaries, those giant plant sculptures, are a personal favorite of mine. One of my most vivid memories of my very first trip to Walt Disney World, back in the 1970s, was seeing a topiary for the first time. I had never imagined plants as art before. This artistic greenery was everywhere during Flower & Garden.
The main gate entrance topiaries featured characters from Toy Story 3: Buzz, a spindly-legged Woody, and even strawberry-scented Lotso. Other new additions were Cars characters Mater and Lightning McQueen, along with flags of Italy, France, Japan, and the UK made of plants. These are some of the locations that will be featured in the upcoming theatrical release of Cars 2. Some guests were disappointed that the Lotso and Cars figures didn’t make it on stage during the Festival’s opening week, but all reports were positive once they arrived.
Most other major Disney characters were represented in shrub and flower form. One particularly engaging display featured plant versions of Mickey, Minnie and Pluto flying a kite. Many of the topiaries were thematically tied to the World Showcase countries. For example, Beauty and the Beast topiaries were in France and topiary pandas decorated the China pavilion. Other notable figures were the new Rapunzel (in her tower), Winnie the Pooh characters, and a special section devoted to Disney couples. Tres romantique! Overall more than 100 sculpted plant forms were found throughout the park.
Specialty Gardens and Special Happenings
One of the most striking plantings at the festival was the floral “quilt” that bordered the waters around the Epcot Future World area. Several hundred feet long, the quilt was comprised of many thousands of flowers were arranged into a riotous array of color in geometric shapes and, of course, a not-so-hidden Mickey.
A newly-expanded butterfly house was the home for topiary Bambi and his friends Thumber and the aptly-named Flower. Guests were able to walk through this temporary attraction and observe the unique colors and patterns of several butterfly species. If you were lucky, you might even have had a butterfly land on you. I’ve visited butterfly gardens several times at zoos and museums. Each trip though has come with a hefty fee in addition to the regular ticket price for the host institution. I was thrilled to see that Epcot’s butterfly exhibit came with no extra charge.
The England pavilion hosted a tea garden. Guest were able to browse the garden on their own, or with an informative guide, to learn more about the craft and culture surrounding tea blending. The France pavilion, along with sponsor Guerlain perfumes, featured a special fragrance garden. Again, guests could tour alone or with a guide, here learning about the ingredients and scent profiles of some of the world’s most luscious fragrances. And in Japan pavilion, visitors were treated to examples of the meticulous art of bonsai. I truly admire the horticulturalists that are so dedicated to their craft.
The Healthy Living garden focused on the ways agriculture and the outdoors can enhance human physical and mental well-being. The garden highlighted opportunities for healthful eating, relaxation, meditation, and fitness.
Another new point of interest was a much larger than life sand sculpture of a family of lions. Guests could watch as artists turns a pile of sand into a majestic pride, as well as signage for the theatrical release of the DisneyNature film African cats.
Individual weekends during the festival showcased additional special events such as the I Dig Bugs event in which guests learned about the role of insects in sustainable gardening and the Florida Farmers’ Market event where you could learn about the produce of Walt Disney World’s home state.
For the Little Sprouts
Disney didn’t forget about the little sprouts when planning the Festival. Several gardens and activities were geared toward children.
Among the most notable attractions for kids was the new Pixie Hollow garden which hosted the Tinker Bell and fairy meet and greet area. With the extensive renovations going on at the Magic Kingdom, Tink and her fairy friends were relocated to Epcot. This version of Pixie Hollow included topiary renditions of Tink, Fawn, Iridessa, Rosetta, Silvermist, Terence, and Vidia, as well as a temporary playground with a climbing structure intended for children ages 2 to 5. Perhaps the most charming aspect of the entire Festival was the installation of tiny fairy houses in Pixie Hollow. This fairy-sized structures were made of found objects from the human world (for example, a roller skate and flour sifter) augmented with natural elements such as twigs, leaves, nuts, and bark. If I were a fairy, that’s exactly where I would want to live.
Children ages 5 to 12 were invited to climb on the “Let’s Get Moving” playground located near the Butterfly House. This was the perfect place for kids to blow off some excess energy. The times I’ve been at Epcot with my children when these temporary play structures were installed have been among the best. They’ve relished the opportunity to exercise muscles other than the ones they been using to walk all day. On my Disney wish list is that interactive play equipment find a permanent place at Epcot.
Shop, Shop, Shop
Special events at Epcot always mean special opportunities for shopping. Merchandise central was found in the HGTV Festival Center, but satellite sales areas were located throughout the park.
This year’s festival poster was a quadriptych of flowers painted by artist Rachel Tribble. Her illustrations could be found on numerous festival items including T-shirts, bags, mugs, caps, wall art, and more. In additional to buying her work, guests were able to meet and chat with Tribble each weekend during the festival.
Of course, an event at Disney wouldn’t be complete without a commemorative pin, so these were available during the Festival. Also for sale were Flower & Garden themed Vinylmation figures. Personally, I was a bit disappointed that these were simply the 2010 Festival figurines put out for sale again. Here’s hoping that 2012 brings a brand new Vinyl Garden item. For those looking for larger representations of Disney characters, Festival merchandise locations sold foot-tall garden statuary in the image of Disney’s fab five: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto. Also available was a whimsical take on the classic garden gnome, this little guy had Mickey’s face.
Perhaps the most talked about Festival merchandise item this year was the pink flamingo lawn ornament. This was not your typical flamingo, the Festival version boasted a bulbous purple nose/beak and sported Mickey ears atop his head. It was pretty much impossible not to smile when you saw this.
Other specialty sales items during the festival included botanical health and beauty items such as soaps and lotions, gardening books and tools, bird feeders, windchimes, live plants, garden spinners, and gazing balls both with and without Disney licensed images.
Feel the (Flower) Power
Again this year, weekends were filled with music at Flower & Garden, with the continuation of the Flower Power concert series. Three times each performance night classic bands from the 1960s and 1970s rocked out in the America Gardens theater. New comers to the series this year were Melissa Manchester, Juice Newton, and Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.
* 3/4-6 Jose Feliciano (Light My Fire)
* 3/11-13 The Guess Who (American Woman)
* 3/18-20 Chubby Checker and the Wildcats (The Twist)
* 3/25-27 Melissa Manchester (Don’t Cry Out Loud)
* 4/1-3 Starship starring Mickey Thomas (We Built this City)
* 4/8-10 Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. (You Don’t Have to be a Star (to be in My Show)
* 4/15-17 Juice Newton (Queen of Hearts)
* 4/22-24 Ricky Nelson Remembered featuring The Nelsons (Poor Little Fool)
* 4/29-5/1 Paul Revere & The Raiders (Good Thing)
* 5/6-8 Davy Jones (I’m a Believer)
* 5/13-15 Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone (I’m Henry the VIII, I Am)
The Festival finished up with a bang. The last weekend was dedicated to a new event-within-the-event: Disney/Pixar weekend. This was presented in anticipation of the June 2011 release of the Cars 2 film. Guests were able to interact with numerous Pixar characters not normally seen at Epcot. The hIghlight of the weekend was as series of special presentations by Pixar superstars Jay Ward, Jonas Rivera, and Michael Giacchino.
Mark your calendars for March 7 to May 20, 2012 for next year’s Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. What do you hope they keep or expand from this year? What do you wish they would add? And is there anything you think it’s time to retire? Let us know in the comments.
All photos courtesy Tom Bricker.