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Lake Buena Vista. Florida - Thousands of trees, shrubs and flowers set the stage for adventure and recreation at the Walt Disney World Vacation Kingdom in Central Florida during the BPI convention. Landscaping in an endless variety of form and color serves as a living backdrop for resort hotels, golf courses, a shopping village, outdoor entertainment, and the 45 adventures of the Magic Kingdom theme park, which will give BPI participants new ideas and uses of bedding plants.

“We are constantly aware that we are designing backdrops for some of the world’s largest and busiest stages where guests are also part of the scene,” says Landscape Director Tony Virginia. “Our plantings must help create the environment of the past, or the future, or fantasy, and in themselves add extra visual pleasure for our visitors.

At the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, guests are welcomed by the Mickey Floral, a large portrait of the famous showman done in annuals. Landscape design in the theme park ranges in effect from the formal Victorian parterre garden at the end of Main Street to Chinese Elms and Wax Leaf Privetts shaped to spark images of the future in Tomorrowland.

Bamboo, Orchid Trees, Philodendron, and other lush plant material create jungle effects in Adventureland. Summer Snow Roses and plants trained in the shapes of strange animals create a sense of magic in Fantasyland. Dahoon Holly, Live Oak, Mesquite, Texas Ebony, and other native American plants are used in Frontierland and Liberty Square to recall the American frontier days.

The Showplace of the Polynesian Village Hotel is the lobby atrium lush with orchids, Bromeliads, Calatheas, and other exotic tropical plants. Many different and unusual Palm and flowering tree species on the grounds help create a relaxing South Seas atmosphere.

Native Laurel Oaks sculptured into geometric forms complemented by angular beds of brightly colored flowers develop the modernistic theme of the Contemporary Resort Hotel.

The Golf Resort Hotel draws its southern charm and the names of its two championship courses from the stands of Palm and Magnolia planted there by the landscape department.

Loblolly Bay trees, Slash Pines, and Native Oaks, as well as Azaleas, Juniper, and other widely used landscape shrubs, complement the country walking village atmosphere of the Walt Disney World Resort Community at Lake Buena Vista. The area, particularly the shopping village, serves as a good demonstration of the uses of annuals for the homeowner.

Under Tony Virginia’s direction, a staff of 250 maintain the 3.000 acres (out of 27,400) which have been developed as a total destination resort: the Vacation Kingdom.

Backstage on the 120 acre Tree Farm, Disney horticulturists experiment with trees not ordinarily found in Central Florida, including Acacia species from Australia, Tabebuia species from South America, and various other species from around the world. There are presently some 10,000 trees and shrubs on the farm representing 500 species growing from seed to maturity.

One unusual aspect of the tree farm is its role in experimental waste water treatment. Treated effluent is used to spray irrigate the trees and shrubs. The natural growth processes of the vegetation remove the excess nutrients from the waste water and return it to the water table in a recycled condition.

Disney gardeners plant more than 500,000 annuals each year, adding color and theming to every area. During peak attendance periods, daily replacement of annuals is necessary to maintain the high quality show in all beds. In addition, some 5,000 foliage plants are maintained in the greenhouse adjacent to the tree farm for use at various hotel and Magic Kingdom locations.

More than 500 hanging baskets are in production at any one time for use in the theme park, where they help offset the stark, ultra-modern technology of Tomorrowland while enhancing the nostalgia of turn of the century Main Street.

Lawn maintenance at Walt Disney World involves 987 acres planted in Zoysia, Hybrid Bermuda, Argentine bahia, St. Augustine, and Centipede. Zoysia and Bermuda are used in manicured turf areas such as the Hub in front of Cinderella Castle. They require the regular maintenance practices of verticutting, top dressing, fertilizing, and mowing, and are kept at a height of 1/2" with 3-gang rider reel mowers. Air cushion-type mowers are used for trimming and mowing very steep slopes. Seventeen inch reel push mowers manicure in tight spaces. During June, July and August, mowing of the grasses is done three times a week; other times of the year, two times weekly is adequate. Vacuum sweepers and brush pickup sweepers are used to gather clippings after each mowing.

An automated hard line irrigation system is used throughout the landscape. Irrigation must be done in the very early morning prior to the arrival of thousands of daily guests. The maintenance staff is presently investigating the use of drip and ooze irrigation for ornamental beds.

Due to the nature of the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World gardeners are often called upon to meet unusual challenges. Drawing upon their imagination and inventiveness, they devised the method for moving particularly large trees such as the 32 ton Liberty Oak for the Liberty Square area. After months of meticulous pruning of both branches and roots in preparation for the big lift, a small hole was drilled through the ponderous trunk. Since wrapping a cable around the trunk would likely kill a tree of this size, the landscapers devised the boring method. They fitted a steel bar into the hole and, with a crane and giant earth mover, gently lifted the tree and transported it to its new home.

Like the Liberty Tree, oak trees on Main Street are planted in concrete planters which protrude into the underground utilidor system. Each planter is connected to the tunnel drainage system.

Other planters are constructed with French drains which require constant monitoring to ensure adequate percolation of the water. Many of these are equipped with provisions for pumping excess water out of the planter.

The greatest challenge of all, however, is to provide guests with a year-round horticultural show which is as colorful, exciting, and enchanting as possible. This committment to the landscape contributes significantly to the enjoyment of guests as they visit the Vacation Kingdom, and presents a real challenge to BPI’ers to reevaluate ways and means of using annuals in the landscape.