Yesterday, I provided you with some staggering statistics relating to the landscaping of Walt Disney World. Then I continued with a closer look at the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street and Adventureland. Today I’ll finish examining the growth at the Most Magical Place on Earth.
As we move from Adventureland to Frontierland, the foliage changes from tropical to arid. In Adventureland, bare earth is difficult to find as every square inch of soil has profuse growth. But in Frontierland, dry sandy dirt is abundant.
I doubt that Dodge City and Tombstone of yesteryear had barrels overflowing with flowers lining their boardwalks, but this incongruity seems to work here in Frontierland. These rustic containers filled with greenery help make this western town more inviting and friendly.
The town of Frontierland was built along the banks of the Rivers of America. In the early years of this community, trees almost completely obscured the view of the water. But as the town grew and more lumber was needed for construction, this grove was thinned by the local settlers.
As you venture deep into the frontier backwoods aboard the Liberty Belle, the growth is thick with many varieties of tree, bush, and grass. Although this forest may look unmanaged, the Imagineers gave careful consideration to every planting. In some cases, the vegetation extends out over the water to give an overgrown look. At other times, the plants appear to have been cleared by animals and man.
Thematically, Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain should switch positions. Thunder Mountain was inspired by Monument Valley located in the arid climes of Arizona and Utah. It should sit adjacent to the dry Southwestern adobe construction of Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café.
On the other hand, Splash Mountain was based on the movie “Song of the South” where the story unfolds in Reconstruction-Era Georgia. This attraction would be better situated next to the lush pine forest that sits just beyond the train trestle.
But of course, it didn’t turn out that way. Thunder Mountain was built long before Splash Mountain was ever even conceived. So how did the Imagineers ease this “error” in geography? With landscaping.
Being located in the “Deep South,” Splash Mountain cannot have too many trees surrounding the attraction. This can especially be seen at the outside queue. Not only does this mini-forest add atmosphere to the area, it provides shade for the waiting guests. In addition to these nearby trees, the actual attraction contains more greenery as it is peppered with bushes and patches of grass.
If you look closely at Thunder Mountain, you will notice that it is surrounded by cactus, succulents, prairie grass, and other scraggily growth. There are also a handful of trees in the area. However if you pay attention to the actual attraction, you’ll discover that it is practically devoid of any plants.
To bring these two areas together seamlessly, the Imagineers used landscaping. As you walk by Splash Mountain, you pass beneath a small stand of trees. As you near Thunder Mountain, the forest thins and the trees become more lithe.
Gardens also help make the transition. Near the Briar Patch, azaleas grow in abundance. But just a few yards away, a similar wooden fence contains cactus. This fence connects the two areas.
Over in Liberty Square, many of the flower beds have red, white, and almost-blue flowers. (The blue flowers are actually purple, but it is as close as the horticulturists can find.) These are wild flowers as you didn't find too many formal gardens in Colonial America.
In front of Liberty Tree Tavern, old kettles are used as flower pots.
Across from Hall of Presidents is Disney’s version of a Liberty Tree. This species is a Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) and was found growing on the southern edge of their Florida property. Determining that it would be perfect for the Magic Kingdom, the Imagineers decided to dig it up and move it. However, this would be no small undertaking. It’s estimated that the tree weighed more than 35 tons and its root-ball measured 18’x16’x4’ around.
The tree could not be lifted by placing cables around its trunk. Its weight would cause the cables to slice through the bark and into the soft cambium layer. This would seriously damage or possibly kill the tree. Instead, two holes were drilled horizontally through the trunk. Metal rods were then inserted into these bores and cables attached to the ends. Lifted by a large crane, the tree was transferred to a flatbed truck for transportation to the park. Once at the Magic Kingdom, the cables were reattached and the crane lowered the tree into place. The rods were then removed and replaced with the original plugs.
Unfortunately, these plugs had become contaminated during the move and caused an infection to grow within the trunk and eat away a portion of its interior. To remedy the problem, the plugs were removed and the diseased sections of the tree were cleaned out. This time, the holes were filled with cement. In addition, a young Southern Live Oak was grafted to the base of the tree. At one time, you could see these scars, but the bushes have grown up around the tree and they are now hidden. Take a look at the Liberty Tree as seen in 1972 and then again today.
The facade of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion was completed in 1963, three years before Walt’s death. The Imagineers wanted the exterior of this building to be rundown and dilapidated, but Walt had other ideas. He told them “We'll let the ghosts take care of the inside. We'll take care of the outside." Thus, the Haunted Mansion was meticulously maintained and its surrounding grounds manicured to perfection.
From opening day, the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom was also fastidiously maintained, but a few years ago, things began to change. Although the mansion itself shows no signs of neglect, the Imagineers have begun to let the grounds run down just a bit. The first signs of this can be seen near the entrance to the attraction. A toppled fountain and wild roses has been here for years, but recently, weeds have begun to grow and the once carefully pruned hedge has been left to grow naturally. Even more recently, the hedge has been removed completely.
The next sign of disregard can be seen on the lawn. At one time, this grassy slope was mown on a regular basis and a weed growing here would be unthinkable. Today, the grass is uneven and weeds have found a cozy home.
When you look at Cinderella Castle from The Hub, it is flanked by shrubs and trees. This might make you believe that Fantasyland will be lush and verdant once you enter this magical land. But you’d be wrong.
The “old” Fantasyland has vast expanses of concrete with no shade trees. What growth there is can be found in the flowerbeds that hug the shops and attractions.
Fortunately, the Imagineers are beginning to correct this lack of foliage in old Fantasyland. Let’s take a look a Pinocchio Village Haus. The first picture below was taken a few years ago. The second and third pictures were taken just recently. You can see that planters have been added near the outdoor seating area that are large enough to hold trees. In no time at all, these will grow and someday provide much needed shade.
While we’re visiting Pinocchio’s, let’s take a look at some Disney trickery found here. On the upper windows are small flower boxes filled with colorful blooms. They’re beautiful… And they’re also all fake. Just like the plastic topiary that the Imagineers once used when Walt Disney World first opened, they figure that no one will ever get close enough or pay enough attention to notice these flowers are not real. You can see fake flowers on almost every upper story in the Magic Kingdom. Take a look.
The Imagineers have also corrected this lack of Fantasyland foliage in the new sections of this land. Near the “Tangled” restrooms, a wonderful park was created, complete with a waterfall, babbling brook, and small stand of trees. Although Disney tries to use somewhat mature trees when creating a new area, there are limitations as to what they can practically plant. So if you think this area is nice now, come back in ten years and it will be a knockout.
On the other side of Fantasyland, Belle’s cottage is nestled in the woods, not far from that “poor provincial town.” The growth here is a hodgepodge of untended deciduous trees and shrubbery. This is exactly what you’d expect to see surrounding the home of an absent minded inventor and his independent-thinking daughter.
Next to Belle’s cottage is the entrance to the Be Our Guest Restaurant and the Beast’s castle beyond. As his home is set deep in the forest, the trees in this mountainous region are a combination of both evergreen and deciduous trees.
The Imagineers took some liberties when building Prince Eric’s castle. Although they recreated his palace flawlessly, the topography in which they placed his home is somewhat different than depicted in the “Little Mermaid” movie.
In the movie, Eric’s home appears to be in a temperate zone of the world as there are deciduous trees on the hills beyond and the beach is devoid of any plant life. However, in the Magic Kingdom, Eric’s castle is most definitely located in a tropical region of the world. This is evident by the many palm trees and other warm-weather plants seen here.
The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is an interesting attraction in that guests can walk completely around it. Because of this, the landscaping needed to change from one area of this attraction to the next.
Across from the Be Our Guest Restaurant we find the Seven Dwarfs’ Mine Train. In this section of the attraction, evergreen trees are abundant. This is appropriate as the Beast Castle area is also thick with conifers.
As you move around the Mine Train, the pines start to mix with other varieties of leaf-dropping trees. Among these are birch trees.
The addition of birch trees to the mix is important as we approach The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction. These trees were depicted in the E. H. Shepard illustrations found in the A.A. Milne books and line the entrance to this cute little bear’s home in the Magic Kingdom. Also notice the wildflowers that help set the tone for the 100 Acre Woods.
Storybook Circus really doesn’t have any outstanding landscaping features that you’d single out as being special. However, the Imagineers did learn from their mistakes made in the old Fantasyland. Instead of broad expanses of concrete, they added a number of planters that separate one section of this area from another. Once again, when the numerous trees that were planted here grow to maturity, this area will be even more magical than it is today.
Oddly shaped rock formations grace the entrance to Tomorrowland and give this area and otherworldly look and feel. To compliment this alien landscape, the Imagineers used plants that looked unearthly. And even though these are quite common species, they take on an eerie feel when seen in this environment.
As I mentioned in my recent Tomorrowland articles, the Imagineers original concept for this land of the future was vast expanses of concrete. Because of this, even the remodeling of this area in 1995 left very few opportunities for flora. Most of the landscaping here is contained in small beds lining the buildings or surrounding pylons.
In my opinion, the only really imaginative landscaping found in Tomorrowland is located along the concourse that runs from Merchant of Venus to the Tea Cups. The first is the “topiary trees.” I think these really encapsulate a futuristic look.
The other artistic bit of landscaping can be found in the planters that run up the middle of this wide thoroughfare. Here, the Imagineers have used colorful foliage to create orderly designs.
Well that’s my look at the landscaping found in the Magic Kingdom. Check back next week when I’ll be discussing Epcot.