Disney Blossoms Again for Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

Dewayne Bevil, The Orlando Sentinel, March 08, 2012

Tradition is front and center at this year's Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.

Inside the front entrance of the theme park is a flower bed themed to the Disney classic movie "Fantasia," which debuted in 1940.

"We wanted to go more traditional this year, and what's a more traditional topiary than 'Fantasia'?" says Eric Darden, horticulture manager for the festival. The characters play a part in Disney World history: They were among the very first here to get the topiary treatment in the 1970s, Darden says.

A bevy of "Fantasia" characters form the scene in the shadow of the iconic Spaceship Earth, orchestrated by Sorcerer Mickey. Nearly 30 figures, including elephants, ostriches and dancing brooms, are installed there.

"It's going to be a crowded bed," Darden says. "There will be no lack of photo opportunities."

Topiaries of the film's dancing mushrooms - topped with violas - will greet guests of the festival, which runs through May 20.

"We've always wanted to go outside the front of the park with characters. Before you even get through the turnstiles, you'll start seeing topiaries," Darden says.

The Pixar characters, including Buzz Lightyear and Woody from "Toy Story," that were in that spot last year are elsewhere in Epcot.

Sorcerer Mickey sits atop a 12-foot floral "mountain."

"The rock itself is made of these beautiful dark purple foilaged ajuga, and then it's got this billowing wispy little tiny waterfall of white flowers coming down over that rock," says Heather Will-Browne, a Disney World horticulture-area manager.

The festival's popular topiaries are flanked with an array of blooms.

"We have a beautiful mix of flowers in our flower towers at the front entrance," Will-Browne says. "In the past we have used strictly impatiens, and we've kind of broadened our horizons."

Perhaps Sorcerer Mickey conjured up the agreeable weather Florida has had this winter.

"It's a real challenge when it's cold out. The plant material doesn't grow as fast, you might have more diseases," Will-Browne says. "And since it's been warm we've been able to get a lot of growth and everything looks really good going in."

Other festival elements to check out this year include:

- The new Haiti: Garden of Many Colors will bring attention to the products of that country. The festival will concentrate on coffee and rum, Darden says. It's the first to feature a built-in beverage station and the first to be lit so it can remain open after dark, he says.

- Look for bigger blooms on the flower towers, featuring New Guinea impatiens, and the floating gardens, which will utilize ornamental sweet potatoes that Will-Browne describes as "eye-popping orange."

- The Norway pavilion presents an all-white and fragrant garden.

- A herb garden in the Italy pavilion features 20 big containers.

"We have these enormous clay pots that have big, big, big rosemary in them, fennel, herbs, artichokes," says Will-Browne, "So in addition to the flowers, we have these big floral bouquets of herbs."

- Making a comeback at the festival are the large peacock topiary (look behind Spaceship Earth) and China's dragon, which has new accessories including a pineapple plant on its head (think crown) and brown bromeliads on its legs.

"They almost look like creepy reptile skin on his legs. He's pretty awesome," Will-Browne says.

- Succulents, make unusual appearances, including as part of the Piglet topiary.

"This is the first time we've used that kind of plants in the topiaries," she says.

- The Backyard Play Garden, between Morocco and France, sports a playground and suggestions for kids' activities at home.

"Parents are looking for ways to get their kids out from behind the computer screen and outside," Darden says.

[email protected] or 407-420-5477

Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

When: Daily through May 20; park hours are 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

Cost: Included in regular theme-park admission. A one-day, one-park ticket is $85 general, $79 ages 3-9.

Phone: 407-824-4321

Online: DisneyWorld.com/flower

HGTV stars at Epcot

Designers and hosts from HGTV will present programs at the Festival Center on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the event. The sessions begin at noon and 3 p.m.

- March 9-11: John Gidding, "Curb Appeal"

- March 16-18: Sabrina Soto, "The High Low Project"

- March 23-25: Jason Cameron, DIY Network's "Desperate Landscapes"

- March 30-April 1: Camille Styles, HGTV.com, "Design Happens"

- April 6-8: Dan Faires, HGTV.com's "DanMade"

- April 13-15: Brandon Johnson, "My Yard Goes Disney"

- April 20-22: Meg Caswell Holladay, "Meg's Great Rooms"

- April 27-29: Monica Pedersen, "HGTV Dream Home 2012"

- May 4-6: Antonio Ballatore, "The Antonio Treatment"

- May 11-13: Carter Oosterhouse, "Million Dollar Rooms"

- May 18-20: Genevieve Gorder, "Dear Genevieve" and "HGTV Design Star"

Flower Power concerts

Here is the lineup for the Flower Power concert series, which takes place at the America Gardens Theatre on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. Shows are at 5:15 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.

March 9-11: Jose Feliciano

March 16-18: Starship, starring Mickey Thomas

March 23-25: The Guess Who

March 30-April 1: The Spinners

April 6-8: Chubby Checker & the Wildcats

April 13-15: Paul Revere & the Raiders

April 20-22: The Turtles, featuring Flo & Eddie

April 27-29: Chuck Negron, formerly of Three Dog Night

May 4-6: The Orchestra (featuring former members of ELO and ELO Part II)

May 11-13: Herman's Hermits, starring Peter Noone

May 18-20: Disney has not announced a replacement for Davy Jones, who died last month.