Topiary Splendor

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This week starts the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival and I am excited for a number of reasons.  For starters, if you’ve never seen it before, this event pluses the look and feel of the park.  Flowerbeds will look more full, roses will always be in bloom, and the park will be more colorful than it is any other time of the year.  One great addition is the sponsoring of the event by HGTV.  I’m really hoping that this will allow for the festival to have a comeback year as it’s fallen off some in recent years.

But my favorite part of the event by far each year is the addition all over Epcot of a plethora of topiaries.  In fact, this year there will be over 100 topiaries at Epcot, 75 of which will depict Disney characters.  In addition to Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and other core Disney characters we’ll also get to see a number of new characters as well including Buzz, Woody, and Lotso from Toy Story 3 and Lightning McQueen and Mater from Cars 2.  The latter of which will be presented in a display as you enter the World Showcase.

Disney has been using topiaries in their parks dating back to 1963 when they were first introduced at Disneyland.  Walt got the idea while traveling Europe and visiting traditional topiary gardens to create what he called “living” topiaries.  Combining the creative minds of both his animators and the Disneyland landscapers, the Disney topiaries as we know them today were born. Many of these original topiaries can be found in front of the It’s A Small World attraction in Disneyland.

There are three types of topiaries: traditional, sphagnum, and trained ivy.  Traditional (a.k.a. shrub) topiaries are created from the sculpting and shaping of trees and shrubs into the desired shapes and forms.  Today, this is actually the least used form of topiary at the Walt Disney World with a few standouts like the Sea Serpent in the Rose Garden at the Magic Kingdom.  These can take anywhere from 3 to 10 years to create.  In fact, planning for the original Walt Disney World topiaries began more than 3 years before the park opened in 1971.

Sphagnum is the the art of shaping a form out of moss and wire and planting vines, flowers, and other plants inside it to create and design your form.  Whereas ivy is a method of using a wire frame and slowly training the ivy to fill in its empty spaces to create your form, literally causing it to grow around the wire.  These days Disney topiary artists use a combination of these two forms to create the wonders we see around the Walt Disney World Resort.

The Disney topiaries are not free form, rather they are carefully well planned and blueprinted creations that allow for the designers to create the optimal “skeletal” wire-frame on which to grow their creation.  It takes a lot of patience and a steady, artistic hand to guide their growth.  The plants must be trained to take and maintain the desired form.  To do so they are constantly clipped and pruned on a regular basis.

This is something that many may not realize – topiaries are living things.  They are watered and they grow the entire time they are on display, and even when they are returned to the nurseries.  While sometimes painted, it is true art when natural living plants and used to create the color, contrasts, and textures on a topiary.  And as they form and grow, old ones are retired and new ones replace them, often making their debut in the spring at the Flower & Garden Festival.

It’s important to note that topiaries get a lot of reuse in and around WDW – often getting reused during the Festival each year.  However, this year has a special treat as, for the first time in 7 years, the Epcot main gate topiaries will be comprised entirely of brand new topiary character creations.  Since this is the first thing someone entering through the park’s main gate will see, this is an awesome change.  Generally this display is so fantastic that you can easily take a hundred or more pictures of it as the shape of the planter provides so many different angles to choose from.

The splendor of these creations can not be denied.  And when you consider all the work that goes in to create them and present them to us on a regular basis – especially during the Flower & Garden Festival – you have to give a big hat tip to Walt who must have foreseen the beauty these creations would some day bring to his parks.

What about you? Do you like topiaries?  Do you own topiaries?  Can you do without them?  Are you going to the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival?  Are you Living with the Land?

Todd Perlmutter

Todd is a Central Florida local who just so happens to be a mega geeky Disney, tech, and gaming nerd. Lives or dies by his iPhone - it spending a significant amount of time in his hand while he's at Walt Disney World. In addition to being blogger here at he is also a developer working on the Touring Plans Engine, the Chief Technical Officer for The Disney Driven Life, and co-host of the Disney Film Project Podcast. Loves his wife (@cherylp3) and pup (@DisneyDoggie). You can reach Todd via Twitter (@tperlmutter) or Facebook (tperlmutter).

6 thoughts on “Topiary Splendor

  • March 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    The Topiaries are one of me and my father’s favorite “little touches” in WDW (though they’re certainly grand in scale). I remember taking the monorail to Magic Kingdom for the first time and seeing that magnificent dragon you mentioned “swimming” along the track and into the rose garden. I was one impressed little kid!

    • March 6, 2011 at 7:21 am

      Awesome. I have a lot of really great memories like that of me and my dad too.

  • March 6, 2011 at 12:38 am

    They’re so beautiful! I can’t wait to see them in just a couple of weeks!

  • March 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Were the sand sculptures over between Future World and the Butterfly Tent? We saw a couple of huge piles of sand over there while briefly visiting Epcot on 2/26 to wrap up our visit for the launch of Discovery. I would have to say that what I saw of the preliminary setup that weekend, it was already better than last year’s Flower and Garden Festival!

    Thank you, Todd!

    • March 7, 2011 at 7:18 pm

      Hey Janet! (a.k.a., she who also has the best birthday of the year)

      The past few years have had sand sculptures. They’re often in the center between the entrance to Mouse Gear and the walkway on the left just before the bridge to World Showcase. Though one year there was one roughly near where the digital tip board now is outside Mission Space.

      The pictures above are actually NOT from this year at all, but rather from the previous 6 years of the festival.


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