Epcot in Bloom

2005 Epcot Garden Festival

The air's getting warm, daylight savings has given us long, lovely, light-filled afternoons, and the birds are working overtime - at long last, spring is here! And one of the most eagerly anticipated spring rituals at Walt Disney World Resort is the annual Epcot Garden Festival, a seven-week celebration of all things green, growing, and good.
This year's festival began April 15 and will run up to the very brink of summer, June 5. To learn what's new and not to be missed, we spoke to Disney Horticulturist Eric Darden.

Among the new features at this year's festival, Eric is especially excited about Minnie's Magnificent Butterfly Garden, featuring a structure filled with gorgeous butterflies and the plants they love.

Guests can walk through and commune with the winged beauties - and surrounding the house is a "butterfly garden" planted with all the flowers butterflies love best.

Lady and the Tramp topiaries at the 2005 Epcot Garden Festival

Topiaries like these grace the
Festival with green.

One returning favorite is a treat not just for the eyes, but for the nose. A fragrance garden sponsored by Guerlain, the oldest perfume house in the world, features the plants from which many famous perfumes are made, plus "lift 'n' sniff" stations where Guests can smell the perfumes themselves. According to Eric, the perfumes often smell nothing like the plants from which they're created. "Perfumers often use the stems or even the roots of plants to create fragrances, instead of the flower. The results can smell quite different from what you experience in the garden," he explains. Adding to the luxurious effect are topiaries cut in the shapes of Guerlain's perfume bottles, including the familiar Shalimar flagon.

Festival-goers will discover not just how to make their gardens beautiful, but how to make them environmentally sound as well. Gardeners will get loads of tips on water conservation, natural pest control, and more with exhibits like WaterFULL World, devoted to gardening with a minimal amount of water.

Mickey Mouse topiary at the 2005 Epcot Garden Festival

"It really demonstrates the fact that what you do in your yard and what you put down on your yard, eventually it's going to end up in the rivers. It shows guests how they can make their gardens more environmentally friendly," explains Eric. "There are a lot of things for kids woven in there, too."

Why the emphasis on "green" gardening? According to Eric, it's just a natural part of the festival. "One of the things we're trying to show guests is how they can garden like Disney," he says, "and we try to garden environmentally friendly." In fact, he tells us, "Disney World uses less potable water - the water we all drink and take baths in - than in 1990, which was before Disney's Animal Kingdom opened. We've gone more to reused water, and we practice water conservation."

Mickey gets a refreshing shower

Water-wise gardening isn't the only challenge Epcot's garden festival planners face; the festival runs from early spring through the beginning of Florida's scorching summer, and finding plants that will thrive at temperature extremes and look good for the full seven weeks is the trickiest puzzle the horticulturists must solve.

"Last year before the festival opened, we had two nights where it got down to 48 degrees. In April the nights can still be chilly, and that's ideal weather for growing annuals. Lows in the 50s, highs in the 80s. And we usually start the festival like that, but by the END of the festival...!" Eric laughs ruefully. "Traditionally at most of our Disney parks, about halfway through Festival time is right when we do what we call a crop change. The winter bedding plants come out and the summer plants go in. But in the Festival, we try to find bedding plants that can handle both situations. The one thing we can't control is the weather!" Selecting hardy, heat-tolerant plants is key; you won't see fragile pansies in the Festival gardens, for instance.

Asked what tips he's picked up to use in his own home garden, Eric laughs. "Generally, what goes in my own garden is what my wife likes! We're big on butterfly gardening."

Whatever your own pleasure - from butterflies to kid-friendly vegetable mazes, from Japanese gardens to the heady scent of perfume - the Epcot Garden Festival offers plenty of inspiration.

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Originally Published: April 26. 2005 The Disney Insider