Hours Amongst the Flowers:
The 10th Annual Epcot
International Flower & Garden Festival

by Debra Martin Koma
ALL EARS® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the May 6, 2003, Issue #189 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


It had been a couple years since I visited Walt Disney World during Epcot's annual International Flower & Garden Festival, so I was eagerly anticipating it. Doubly so, since I was taking along my sister and my mom, who loves flowers and gardening, and who had never been to WDW before. I was sure that for this year, the 10th anniversary of this fabulous floral fete, WDW would pull out all the stops.

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SPENDING HOURS
WITH THE FLOWERS
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When we reached Epcot on the festival's opening day, April 25, we entered the park through the International Gateway (just missed the opening ceremonies with former Monkees singer Davy Jones by a few hours, darn it!).

After walking quickly through the UK and Canada pavilions, we headed toward Future World to find the entrance displays. As we passed along the Rose Walk that connects World Showcase Plaza with Future World West, I was disappointed to note that many of the rose bushes were not even in bloom yet, while many others had brown-edged blossoms and numerous dropped petals, as if there had been a frost the night before. This was not what I wanted as my mom's first impression of the Flower and Garden Festival!

We came across one of the festival's new attractions for this year, Disney's DogGone Maze, along the walkway. Billed as an interactive display for children, the narrow maze features topiaries of some of Disney's most famous canines with dog-themed music blaring ("Who Let the Dogs Out? Who? Who? Who? "). We meandered through, passing topiary versions of Goofy, puppies from 101 Dalmatians, and, a favorite from previous years, Lady and the Tramp sharing a romantic dinner of ivy "spaghetti". On either end of the maze was a play area for children -- one with mulch and Mickey balls, the other a big sandy ring with seats that wobbled and twirled around. Pluto's topiary area was most interactive -- there was a doghouse to crawl through and it was surrounded by wooden crates. Lifting the lids revealed a bunch of barking and other sounds, like Stitch talking about 'ohana. Speaking of Stitch, I was delighted to find a perfect topiary reproduction of this cranky, grass-skirted alien at the maze's center. (For those of you who haven't seen the movie "Lilo and Stitch", you might wonder at his being included in a maze devoted to dogs -- the Hawaiian girl Lilo adopts the little blue space traveler as her pet, mistaking him for a canine critter.)

Upon reaching Epcot's main entrance, we took in the "Love, Art and Music" displays dramatically positioned with Spaceship Earth as a backdrop. The topiaries of Mickey and Minnie standing in front of an artist's palette, and a separate topiary of musical notes made out of flowers encircling a green staff, were pretty, but not exactly as colorful as depicted in the artist rendering found in the Festival program.

Roaming through Future World, though, we found lots to delight our eyes, from the Hidden Mickey amidst the "Power of Flowers" bedding plants hugging the banks of the West Lake, to the ever-popular floating gardens. The new display of Dooryard Gardens in Future World East was also lovely, particularly the Mediterranean Style dooryard, with its stucco and marble facade, and a walkway lined with fiery blooms.

The floating sculptures in the lake in front The Living Seas pavilion reminded me of the whimsical fountain at Paris's Georges Pompidou Centre with its boldly colored, avant-garde structures. Nearby, in Future World West, behind the Innoventions West Festival Center, is the Sculpture Garden, which features vivid artworks in a variety of media -- my favorite was the multicolored, ball-balancing "Top Dog", but don't miss "Ebony Sentinel" and the blue and gold gecko that hugs a shady tree.

Other favorite displays from past years dot the landscape of Future World -- including the multicolored butterfly topiaries, the popular animated Fantasia topiaries, and, of course, greeting you in World Showcase Plaza, the topiaries of Mickey pushing Minnie on a swing, while nearby Donald takes Daisy for a drive.

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TREMENDOUS
TOPIARIES
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As you tour World Showcase, you'll find an even greater assortment of new displays intermingled with old favorites. For example, this year, instead of the dazzling floral peacock featured in the past, the Canada pavilion sports a new look. A "Rustic Moose" topiary -- that is, one made of what appears to be dried grape vines rather than traditional topiary greenery -- stands among colorful begonias and ornamental grasses.

The UK pavilion features a brand new piece -- Winnie the Pooh, holding a bright red balloon -- while France brings back its longtime standard, Beauty and the Beast. In Japan, one of my favorites from previous festivals -- the "clack" garden, which incorporated sounds made by the stream running over various instruments -- was missing, replaced by an impressive array of bonsai exhibits. The miniature trees were a testament to the patience of the exhibitors -- some of whom were as young as 15, according to the placards!

One of the most colorful of the new topiaries is found in front of the American Adventure -- a polka-dotted Minnie Mouse, wearing a pincushion on her wrist, stands before an ambitious patchwork quilt. One of my all-time favorites, the vibrantly colored Snow White, returns in the Germany pavilion, along with her sidekick Dopey, while in China the playful Panda topiaries again make an appearance. Another memorable returnee, the ornate Bromeliad Chinese Dragon, continues to win fans with his "fire-breathing" ways (really just mist), while Norway's odd-looking Troll returns once more to evoke smiles from passers-by.

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HANDS-ON
HORTICULTURE
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The Flower & Garden Festival offers much more than just pretty posies this year, with a wide range of demonstrations and hands-on activities for all ages.

This year's "Great American Gardeners" series, presented by the American Horticultural Society, debuted in the Innoventions West Festival Center with speaker Roger Swain, former host of PBS's "Victory Garden" show. The editor of "Horticulture" magazine since 1978, Swain, easily recognized by his trademark long, graying beard, round spectacles, and suspenders, was a lively and entertaining speaker, addressing the importance of gardening in creating a strong neighborhood. Before his talk officially began, he mingled and joked with the audience, and afterwards was only too happy to pose for photos, sign autographs and answer questions. Upcoming speakers in this series include Jim Hynd, director of fiesta parade floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade, and author and television host P. Allen Smith.

The Festival Center is also home to an expo of sorts, with vendors from around the country selling their gardening-related wares. Be sure to stop by the DreamWeaver Productions booth, which sells absolutely gorgeous and unique butterfly and fairy wings and headdresses -- they're from my hometown of Pittsburgh! Among the many other exhibitors on hand are topiary and wire artists GreenPiece, and Larry Dotson, whose well-known paintings of Walt Disney World locations now include a beautiful Epcot Flower & Garden panorama. (Yes, I bought it!)

Also in the Festival Center, you'll find informal booths where you can "Ask an Expert" from the University of Florida about your gardening problems, as well as presentations by Disney's own gardening professionals. You can also explore "Disney's Horticulture Heritage" in an exhibit anchored by an impressive mural.

Along with the demonstrations, you can also meet the artist of this year's Flower & Garden Festival poster -- Marilynne Roland, a charming woman who is happy to chat as she signs her work. She is tentatively scheduled to appear again May 24, 25, and 26.

The educational aspects of the festival were expanded to the Land pavilion, and during the boat ride there our guide pointed out the "Salute to International Crops" among the various areas. Finally, the "Gardening for Food around the World" exhibit, located near Morocco in World Showcase, was most enlightening, as scientists from the regions of Latin America, Africa and Asia explained the diverse ways that researchers are studying to improve food production and maximize limited growing space. Did you know, for example, that in some areas farmers are growing rice in the same space in which they are raising tilapia? Not only does this double the use of the land, but the fish waste actually provides nutrients for the rice plants. Well, I didn't know, and I was impressed!

In addition to the Doggone Maze, there are a number of activities geared especially to children. Daily, there are butterfly and ladybug releases, which promote natural pest control methods while entertaining the little ones. As Fate would have it, a friend and her family attended a Butterfly Release in the Backyard Habitat Garden (Future World West) at the same time we were there. Luckily, our friend's 6 year-old daughter, Maddy, was chosen to set the fluttering butterflies free, which granted us many photo ops, especially as one winged creature chose to perch on Maddy's finger for quite a long while.

The Kids' Garden, located near the Outpost in World Showcase, featured a musical theme this year, and the joyful noises coming from the musical instruments being pounded on around the garden were matched by the happy shouts of children crawling around the expansive jungle gym and swaying on the giant play "cattails". What attracted me even more, were the garden's stunning white and yellow cockatoo topiaries!

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MORE THAN
JUST FLOWERS
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By far one of the best side shows at the Flower & Garden Festival is the series of "Flower Power" concerts held at the America Gardens Theatre in World Showcase. A cynic might say these performances by recording artists who were popular in the 1960s and '70s are just the last gasps of a bunch of has-beens -- but you won't hear that kind of remark from me! A few years ago, I was thrilled to see Peter Noone, of Herman's Hermits fame, and this year I was lucky enough to catch former Monkee Davy Jones, not once, but three times!

Jones's first performance on the first night of the Flower & Garden Festival was more than standing-room only -- according to a Cast Member, folks had begun lining up at 2:30 p.m. for the 5:45 show! But even those left standing on the sidelines (as we were that first show) were treated to a half-hour of pure fun and nostalgia -- a far cry from the lackluster performance I'd seen by the Temptations Review in that same venue during the Food & Wine Festival.

Jones's energy and enthusiasm were infectious enough that we were drawn back twice more the following days, hoping to get a chance to shake his hand as he wandered through the audience. Alas, we weren't that lucky, but we did manage to get a few nice close-up photos -- and learned the lyrics to "Daydream Believer" inside and out!

If future Flower Power acts (among them Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Turtles, Gary Puckett, and the returning, must-see Peter Noone) are even half as entertaining as Davy Jones was, you must make time in your flower-viewing schedule to catch at least one show.

Overall, I'd say that this year's Flower & Garden Festival almost met my expectations, despite a few disappointments. Don't get me wrong -- it *was* beautiful, and there were flowers everywhere -- it just didn't knock our socks off as I had expected it to. I was aware of things that were missing, or things that weren't quite up to the standards I had come to expect from this showy spectacle in years past. Perhaps the notorious budget cutbacks were the culprit.

That said, though, we did spend a most enjoyable four days covering just about every square inch of Epcot! The power of the flowers was undeniable.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The 10th Annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs until June 8.


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.