Epcot's 11th Annual
Flower & Garden Festival


by Debra Martin Koma
ALL EARS® Senior Editor

This article appeared in the
April 20, 2004, Issue #239 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

ALL EARS® photographer Dotti Saroufim is in Walt Disney World this week, soaking in the sunshine and the gorgeous first few days of the 11th annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.

According to Dotti, the opening ceremony for this year's festival was extremely entertaining. On hand for the kick-off, held at the Fountain Stage in Innoventions Plaza, were emcee Christopher Stewart, a 2004 Walt Disney World Ambassador; Brad Rex, vice president of Epcot; and Paul James, host of HGTV's Gardening by the Yard, and guest speaker for the opening weekend's Great American Gardeners series. Oh, and, of course, the opening wouldn't have been complete without Mickey Mouse himself, decked out in his khaki gardening garb! After a few short speeches, accented by some daytime fireworks, the crowd was sprinkled with rose petals and the Flower & Garden Festival officially began.

Dotti's sent in lots of photos already (with more to follow later this week) and shared some of her opening weekend observations with me to pass on to our ALL EARS® readers:

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NEW EXHIBITS
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There are plenty of new displays this year, beginning with those located at the front of Epcot. The new topiary scene, dubbed "Magical Gatherings," is billed as a "get-together like no other." You'll find the Fab Five (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald) feasting on a floweriffic picnic lunch in a display that's so large, it's hard to fit in one camera frame. A little further beyond them, Tinker Bell is perched atop a topiary tower. Dotti reports that at night Tink is lit in such a way that she looks as though she's truly sprinkling a little pixie dust down on everyone.

Over toward Mission:SPACE in East Future World, there's a new play area for kids 5 and up, the SpaceNet. According to Dotti, this futuristic garden is already very popular with the crawling and climbing set, with an unusual structure to scale, and hands-on activities lining one wall.

If you've ever wondered how they make those intricate flower baskets and topiaries, Dotti notes that you'll be interested in the new behind-the-scenes look called "Tricks of the Trade." In this exhibit, topiaries are stripped down to their bare wire forms, so that you can see how Disney's Horticulturists work in each of the plants, from sphagnum moss to colored ivy, to create the truly living-color images.

Your nose is likely to lead you to the new Fragrance Garden in World Showcase's France pavilion. Sponsored by famous French perfume manufacturer Guerlain, this garden features topiaries in the shapes of the company's classic perfume bottles. There are also a number of hands-on activities, such as boxes with lids for lifting and scents for sniffing. Is it pepper? Or maybe nutmeg? You be the judge as to what extracts make up some of the most popular perfumes. There's also a walk-through guide that illustrates the relationship between plants, fragrance and perfumes.

Finally, in Morocco there's a new exhibit dedicated to the Ultimate Backyard Garden (presented by festival sponsor Home Depot). Although Dotti notes that it's nothing out of the ordinary, it's a nice spot to stop and smell the roses, or at least the potted plants, for a while. There's a pristine patio with cozy wicker furniture, a clay stove and container plants, as well as a small children's slide and playhouse area.

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RETURN ENGAGEMENTS
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Disney's DogGone Maze, an interactive display geared to children, makes a repeat appearance at this year's festival with a few enhancements. Found along the Rose Walkway that connects World Showcase and West Future World, the maze spotlights some of Disney's most famous canines in topiary form. There's Goofy, the puppies from 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, and Stitch (who's mistaken for a dog in his movie). On either end of the maze there's a play area for children, along with a doghouse to crawl through.

The "Power of Flowers" bedding plants hugging the banks of the West Lake are even more vibrant this year, as are the floating gardens in the waterways. Color is everywhere -- even the nearby satellite dishes have been converted into giant-sized sunflowers! The Dooryard Gardens in East Future World feature a few different displays, including a door area with a low-roofed, "bungalow"-style architecture, and one with the strong angles of the "Art Deco" look, complete with the bold texture of plentiful tropical foliage.

The miniature, well-manicured trees known as bonsai are back in the Japan pavilion, but they've been relocated to a more accessible location, right along the water (last year, they were hard to see up by the pagoda). The bright red bonsai bougainvillea, still compact and healthy at 35 years old, makes for an impressive visual, positioned as it is alongside Japan's rust-colored Torii Gate with the sparkling Spaceship Earth in the background.

A few old favorites from years gone by seem to have been transplanted or relocated this year, breathing fresh life into them. For example, at the entrance to World Showcase Plaza, there's a scene from Fantasia with Sorcerer Mickey and the enchanted brooms -- its usual home is in the Disney-MGM Studios. Topiary characters from Beauty and the Beast, including Belle, Beast, Lumiere and Mrs. Potts, normally located in the France pavilion, are featured this year in a little vignette in Innoventions Plaza instead. And the majestic topiary of the Lion King's wise old baboon Rafiki, holding up the young Simba, greets you in Future World as you approach Spaceship Earth.

Once again this year, the festival has a number of activities geared especially to children. In addition to the DogGone Maze and the other previously mentioned play areas, there are daily butterfly and ladybug releases in the East Future World Wildlife Garden. In addition, there's a special garden near the Living Seas themed to the recent animated film, Finding Nemo. On weekends, if your kids stop by the Land pavilion, they'll have a chance to decorate a world map with seeds from all over.

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BEYOND FLOWERS
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The Flower & Garden Festival offers more than just a feast for the eyes -- a series of programs and guest speakers attempt to educate as well. This year's "Great American Gardeners" series, presented along with the American Horticultural Society, debuted to standing-room-only crowds in the Innoventions West Festival Center with Paul James, host of HGTV's Gardening by the Yard. Upcoming speakers this year include author and television host P. Allen Smith, Guerlain perfume specialist Richard Johnson, and Jane Kirkland, author of the "Take a Walk" book series.

The Festival Center is again home to a horticultural expo, featuring artists and garden merchants from around the country. Also in the Festival Center, experts from the University of Florida are available daily to answer questions and offer tips, while Disney's gardening professionals present special programs Monday through Thursday.

For those who want an even more in-depth look at the festival displays, a three-hour tour is being offered. Epcot Garden Discoveries, hosted by a Disney horticulturist, is $59 and is available on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday (407-WDW-TOUR for reservations).

The Flower & Garden Festival wouldn't be the same without the "Flower Power" concerts held at the America Gardens Theatre in World Showcase. Former Monkee Davy Jones kicked off the series again this year, and he'll be followed by The Nelsons (sons of the late '60s heartthrob Ricky Nelson), BJ Thomas, Gary Puckett (of "the Union Gap" fame), Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Turtles and several others. These acts perform three times nightly, 5:45, 7 and 8:15 p.m., and lines form early -- if any of these are your faves, you may want to consider lining up at least a half-hour before showtimes.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: The 11th Annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs until June 6. To learn more, visit: http://allears.net/tp/ep/flogar.htm

For photos of the displays and exhibits, visit http://allearsnet.com/tp/ep/fg04/fg04a.htm