$1.7 million USD every day and a team of the world's most talented gardeners is all that it takes to keep Disneyland looking beautiful...
Landscaping is an integral part of the Magic Kingdom. It's meticulously planned and executed right down to the color scheme for each section of the park.
Disneyland and Disney World are truly magical places for children of all ages. For gardening enthusiasts, they present a memorable feast for the eyes. The estimated landscaping cost for Disneyland alone is an astounding 1.69 million dollars per day. Yes, that's every day of the year. The horticulture teams work daily to make sure the flowers and landscapes are fresh, from the hanging pots along Main Street to the Mickey Mouse face that greets guests at the park entrance.
Florida’s Walt Disney World may be known for attractions and rides, but few places can rival its 40 square miles full of plant displays. The 7 million trees, shrubs, and flowers demand an enormous behind the scenes effort to maintain.
Storytelling With Plants
Plants are not just an afterthought. They're a critical part of the show, according to Eric Darden, current manager of the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, Disney's annual horticultural event that attracts 7 million visitors from March through May. Everyone at Disney realizes the importance of the plants as curators of all-important first impressions. Every Disney garden is unique and designed to complement its setting.
“We don’t just go out and decide what kind of plants and colors we want to use,” says Darden. “Our designers make sure the plants tell a story.”
Those stories change with the seasons. Beds are covered with white flowers to mimic snow in winter and masses of red and yellow tulips in spring. Most flower beds at Disney are changed overnight four times a year so visitors don’t see the changeover happening. Some beds are changed five or six times a year. Spent plants are composted.
Massive Amounts of Flowers
Disney’s Florida property uses 3.5 million annual flowers, herbs and vegetables each year. It acquires common varieties from area growers and grows the less common, more expensive specialty plants in its 35-acre nursery. The grounds across from the nursery grow willow, bamboo, bananas and similar leafy tropicals that are cut and fed to the animals at Animal Kingdom. Poop from the park's animals is transported to nearby fertilizer manufacturers, thus completing the "circle of life".
All-America Selections Trial Garden
Disney doesn't display poorly performing flowers for millions to see. That’s not always easy to do during central Florida’s hot, humid summers. To help find the best performers, the park has a backstage All-America Selections trial garden where new varieties of plants are tested in advance. The park then shares its trial feedback with the plant industry’s AAS program, which gives national awards each year to the best new plants. These are then made available commercially.
Disney's signature plant attractions are large topiaries of Disney characters. The topiaries are custom made from stainless steel frames built on site, sometimes costing as much as $100,000. Frames are then stuffed with sphagnum moss and planted with small plant plugs. Topiaries are made at the nursery using metal frames covered with deer netting which acts like skin. The openings are meticulously stuffed by hand with sphagnum moss, a process that can take days or even weeks. Irrigation lines inside keep the topiaries watered. Once the moss is in place, gardeners use a dibble to poke holes and insert small plants. One topiary can sometimes require 1,000 plants. Dense, tough, compact plants like creeping fig and creeping jasmine are favorites for the sections of greenery. Where different colors are needed, golden creeping sedum, red-leafed alternanthera or pink begonias are used.
To make the topiaries more realistic, features such as palm fiber shoes and belts are added along with faces made out of sculpted and painted fiberglass. The current topiaries come with interchangeable heads that can be used on different frame bodies to create various poses.
Life of a Topiary
Topiaries must be planned far in advance. Even after they’re planted, growing time is needed in the nursery for the plants to fill in and create the intended effect. Backups are often planted in case anything happens to a display. Trees and shrubs are a little easier than flowers and topiaries. These are stored in pots in the nursery and quickly moved into place. They can even be left in the pots and covered with soil and/or mulch to make them appear planted. Some palms and other tropical shrubs and trees might be moved back and forth from the nursery for years, showing up in different areas of the parks each time.
Conventional Topiaries and Portable Gardens
Disney also uses conventional topiaries created out of woody plants sheared into shapes. The designers and gardeners have a plan in place and know exactly what plants they’ll need, where and when. Those grown in containers or planter boxes can be put together whole and transported by truck to the appropriate site at the right time. The topiaries are generally moved at night or early morning and set into place by a forklift or crane. Work starts at the nursery at 5 a.m. and can continue until after midnight. A trade secret is having a supply of trimmed, potted evergreen hedges stored and ready to go. If screening or backdrop is needed, these containers can be quickly wheeled into place.
Disney visitors are treated to color everywhere. The nursery grows hundreds of hanging baskets for lights and posts throughout the property. Baskets typically take 3 months to mature and are on display 3 months before being replaced. That requires four rotations of baskets every year.
Matching Plants With Attractions
In addition to flowers, culinary plants are widely used, especially near the restaurants and attractions involving edibles. In keeping with the storytelling theme, edible plants are matched to the attraction. For example, oregano, basil and tomatoes grow in pots by the restaurant at the Italy pavilion. You’ll also find plants growing in and on the water around the properties, some in floating foam rings.
Epcot's Annual Garden Show
Disney pulls out all of the stops for the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. This floral spectacle features additional gardens and topiaries, outdoor kitchens, specialty foods, as well as informational talks and activities centered around home gardening.
Disneyland sprawls across 541 acres of land in Anaheim, California. Those hundreds of acres are landscaped by Disneyland’s horticulture team consisting of 100 cast members who work in landscape design, installation and maintenance, arboriculture, landscape irrigation, landscape design, integrated pest management and project management. For many, it's their dream job.
Total acreage of Walt Disney World Resort: 25,000
That’s equal to 40 square miles, or twice the size of Manhattan island.
Total acreage devoted to maintained landscapes and gardens: 4,200
The gardens of Walt Disney World Resort represent everything from a dry desert to a tropical rainforest.
Number of roses planted in the landscape: Nearly 13,000
Removing spent blooms in the rose gardens requires a good day’s work each week — More than 400 hours per year.
Number of shrubs maintained in the landscape: More than 4 million
In Le Notre garden at the France showcase, 985 shrubs were used to create a parterre de broderie, or embroidered pattern.
Number of interior plants used each year: 8,500
The largest and most diverse garden of interior plants can be found in the atrium lobby of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
Total number of plant species represented: More than 3,000
The species represent flora gathered from every continent except Antarctica.
Number of hanging baskets displayed at one time: More than 800
It takes 50 to 75 four-inch plants to create just one colorful poinsettia ball for the holiday season.
Number of hanging baskets produced each year: About 4,000
On average, each basket is in production for three months and “on stage” for three months.
Number of topiary: More than 200
As many as 20 different plants, flowers, mosses and lichens are used to create topiaries.
Total acres of maintained turf: 2,000
At three mowings a week, that adds up to 450,000 mowing miles per year or 18 trips around the earth at the equator.
Number of beneficial insects released to control plant pests per year: 10.5 million
A single adult predatory beetle (Delphastus puslius) can eat up to 500 whitefly eggs a day.
Total horticultural staff: More than 600
This diverse group of professionals includes gardeners, arborists, irrigation specialists and pest management specialists.