Yesterday I discussed the landscaping found in Epcot’s Future World. Today I’ll finish this park with a look at World Showcase.
The main entrance into World Showcase always contains manicured hedges and brightly colored ground cover or flowers. In November and December, this area is used to display the yearly Christmas tree.
This spot is also used for the annual Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. The first picture below was taken during one of the earlier events. The following picture was taken of this same location, but in 2014. Notice how much more detail the horticulturists are adding to these topiary figures today.
The pyramid of the Mexico Pavilion is supposed to be located somewhere in the tropical regions of this vibrant country. To help us believe the story, the structure is bordered by a lush forest.
On the other side of the promenade, La Hacienda and La Cantina are presumed to be located along an arid coastline. Once again, landscaping helps us believe this. Here, the plants are succulents and cactus with a rocky ground cover. The occasional potted plant also helps us believe that water is at a premium.
Trees play an important part of the Norway Pavilion design. After all, this Scandinavian country has a number of thick forests. To introduce guests to the pavilion the Imagineers placed two stands of trees near the entrance.
Within the pavilion, trees can be found in abundance.
At the back of the pavilion is a lovely garden. For years, a deciduous and two pine trees occupied this space and provided welcome shade. When I visited recently to take pictures for this article, I found that these trees were gone. I don’t know if this is a temporary or permanent change.
The meadows of Norway are represented by a garden of wild flowers found outside Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.
The exterior of the Kringla Bakeri og Kafe was modeled after structures found in the Setesdahl Valley of Norway. Sod roofs were once common in this part of the country. Before the sod is placed on the structure, birch bark is laid across the roof as the watertight element. The main purpose for the sod is to hold the birch bark in place. In addition, sod is an excellent insulator and its heavy weight helps stabilize the structure.
Notice how the flowers are missing in the second roof photo.
China is known for its gardens. So perhaps that is why one of the most beautiful gardens in all of Walt Disney World can be found in the China Pavilion at Epcot. Once passed the Gate of the Golden Sun, you cross a bridge which traverses a lovely lotus pool surrounded by a typical Chinese garden. These gardens were inspired by those in Suzhou, a large city located adjacent to Shanghai.
Care was given when the Imagineers selected the plants for this garden. As always, they wanted to tell a story. For example, this Contorted Mulberry tree tells two stories. First, it was selected for its beauty. In China, this tree provides florists with a number of possibilities. Its foliage is large and turns golden in the autumn before the leaves fall. In the winter, its twisted branches add beauty to any garden or flower arrangement.
But this mulberry tree was also selected to represent China’s silk industry. Silk moths lay their eggs on mulberry leaves and their offspring feed on the greens until entering the larvae stage. At that time, the caterpillar encloses itself in a cocoon made from one single strand of silk. This strand can range in length from 1,000 to 3,000 feet, which can be unraveled and turned into thread. The famous Silk Road came into being sometime between 206 BCE – 220 CE. Although many goods were traded along this route between Asia and the Mediterranean, its name came from the magnificent silk textiles produced in China.
Another plant found in the China garden is the camellia. This beautiful bush with dark green leaves and an array of different colored blossoms is a native of eastern Asia. It was cultivated in China and Japan for centuries before being exported to Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. In China, camellias are known as cháhuā (flowering tea) as many specimens are suitable for brewing.
How can we speak of Asia and not think of bamboo? This member of the grass family is widely used in China as a building material and as a food source. In Hong Kong, contractors use bamboo scaffolding (rather than metal piping) when building skyscrapers reaching 30 to 40 stories high.
The water lily can also be found in this lovely Chinese garden. These plants are native to the tropical climes of the world and are a common sight in Southern Chinese ponds. Much of this plant is edible.
The Germany Pavilion does not have a formal garden as found in the China Pavilion, but landscaping still helps shape the mood here.
To the left side of the pavilion is Snow White’s wishing well. This is a great spot to have your picture taken with Walt’s first princess. But if you check out this spot when Ms. White is busy cleaning the dwarves’ cottage, you can see some interesting living details. The landscapers have allowed vines and other plants to grow up the side and beneath the roof of this structures. This helps us believe that the well has been here for years and not just a prop.
The Germany Pavilion features a lovely park with a number of tree-shaded benches that look out onto World Showcase Lagoon. This is a wonderful spot to sit and relax for a few minutes when your tired feet can take no more. This area is also a great spot to watch Illuminations.
Within the platz you’ll find a smattering of landscaping. The first instance is the flowerbed that surrounds the statue of Saint George. Once again, notice how the plants change over the months and years.
Hanging baskets are also represented in the Germany Pavilion.
And on the upper floors we find window boxes filled with geraniums. Non-living geraniums, that is.
The first annual Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival was held in the spring of 1993. Each year since the festival’s inception, the always beautiful Epcot is transformed into an even more magnificent park with the addition of topiary, displays, and thousands of additional plants and flowers. If you’ve never attended this event, it is worth considering when planning your next trip to Walt Disney World.
One of the early exhibits for this festival was a garden railway built next to the Germany Pavilion. Each year, a miniature town and train was erected for the delight of guests, then at the completion of the event, the layout was dismantled. However, the layout became so popular that it was eventually decided to make it a year-round exhibit. The display features LGB trains and structures.
LGB stands for Lehmann Gross Bahn (Lehmann Big Railway) after the company’s founder, Ernst Paul Lehmann. All locomotives, track, and accessories are built to run in rain and snow, which is why the Epcot train continues operating even during summer downpours. LGB trains are “G” gauge (scale), meaning the track’s rails are 45 mm (1.772 in) apart. During the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, LGB often has a booth in this area selling their wares, along with some specially designed Disney engines and cars.
The Italy Pavilion owes its inspiration to opulent 16th century villas of the Italian Renaissance. It’s interesting to note, most of the landscaping seen here can be found growing in terracotta pots. Terracotta is Italian for “baked earth.”
However, the Italy Pavilion does have a few plants that have put down more permanent roots. The first of these is an olive tree which pays homage to the olive industry so associated with this country. In fact, Italy is second only to Spain in world production of this fruit.
Next to the Neptune Fountain is a long, stone wall. Planted here are grape vines. This, of course, represents Italy’s wine industry. Italy produces approximately one-fifth of the world’s wine, making it the largest producer in the world. Italy cultivates grapes in virtually every region of the country and has thousands of vineyards. Italians also lead the world in wine consumption. Per capita, they drink 18½ gallons a year as compared to 6½ gallons in the U.S.
The horticulturists of Walt Disney World often use substitute plants for the actual variety when selecting species for the countries of World Showcase. After all, the weather in Central Florida is vastly different from that found in many of the regions represented. The only wine-producing grape that will grow in the hot and humid climes of Orlando is the Muscatine grape. This grape is native to the Southern United States and creates a sweet wine. This is not a varietal you would commonly see in Italy.
Two Southern Live Oaks anchor The American Adventure. Currently, the flowers beneath these trees create a five-pointed star. At Christmas time these will be replaced with poinsettias, as will hundreds of other flower beds around Walt Disney World.
The fountain in front of the theater’s main entrance is also transformed into a garden at Christmas time which will provide space for a Christmas tree.
Since opening, the America Gardens Theatre has used trees to help shade the audience. These were recently swapped out for a new variety.
Gardens play an important part in Japanese culture. The Imagineers kept this in mind when designing the Japan Pavilion and devoted much of the available space here to landscaping.
Originally transported to Japan from China, the Japanese garden has evolved over time and taken on a distinctive look of its own. While Buddhist gardens were designed for meditation and contemplation, gardens of the nobility were intended for recreation and aesthetic pleasure. As gardens grow and mature, they are constantly sculpted to maintain and enhance the overall experience. In Japan, gardening is considered a high art form.
A typical Japanese garden contains a number of elements in its design. These include water, rocks & sand, bridges, architecture, lanterns, fences, trees & flowers, and fish. All of these can be found in the Japan Pavilion garden.
Water – Japanese consider water to be a life source and thus is abundant at the Japan Pavilion.
Rocks & Sand – Rocks in Japan represent the enduring nature of the Earth. Most of the larger stones found at the Japan Pavilion were imported from North Carolina and Georgia since boulders are scarce in Florida.
Bridges -- Bridges symbolize transition, the passing from one segment of your life to another. In other words, "We have made it this far. Do we want to turn back? Do we wish to continue on the same path? Or change direction?"
Architecture -- Traditional Japanese architecture has been characterized by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Inside, sliding wooden doors were used in place of walls, allowing for the customization of space depending on the need.
Lanterns -- Stone lanterns were introduced by tea masters to guide guests through their gardens to the tea ceremonies held in the evening.
Fences – Fences are often used in Japanese Gardens to compartmentalize. It’s not uncommon for several types of landscaping to be displayed in one area. A fence can add beauty and helps divide one section of the garden from another.
Trees & Flowers – Evergreen trees are symbols of eternal life and are plentiful at the Japan Pavilion. Because of the climatic difference between Japan and Florida, only a few trees native to Japan can be found at the Japan Pavilion. Some of these include the Sago Palm, the Japanese Maple, and the Monkey-puzzle tree. Azaleas, native to several continents, including Asia, can also be found here.
Fish -- Koi are simply domesticated carp that are used to decorate ponds and water gardens. They were first bread by the Japanese in the 1820’s for their distinctive color. They were virtually unknown to the outside world until 1914 when they were exhibited at an exhibition in Tokyo. Interest was immediate and the hobby of keeping koi spread worldwide.
Rock gardens (Karesansui) are associated closely with Zen Buddhism. Unlike traditional gardens, rock gardens have no water feature. Instead, gravel or sand represents the sea, ocean, rivers, or lakes and sometimes the sky. Raking the stones provides two benefits. First, the patterns are esthetically pleasing and represent waves or ripples. However, achieving this “perfection” is not easy and raking allowed Zen priests to concentrate and meditate while performing this task. When viewing the rock garden at the Japan Pavilion, ask yourself, “Are the large rocks islands in the water, or are they the tops of mountains protruding above the clouds?”
Until the recent addition of Spice Road Table, the Morocco Pavilion had one of the more unusual gardens found in World Showcase. Here, a large waterwheel directed water into a Chahar Bagh (Persian for four gardens). The classic design of a Chahar Bagh has a fountain or holding trough at the center of the garden which flows into four channels at right angles to each other. The four channels are often associated with the four rivers of Paradise as described in the Koran. These waters flow to the four quarters of Heaven.
As Morocco is an arid country, lush gardens are not the norm here. In the Morocco Pavilion we see evidence of this as all of the growth is contained in small gardens or in pottery.
In the France Pavilion we find a kiosk surrounded by a ring of trees. Sights like this were once a common scene along Parisian streets. The kiosks served as information boards and displayed advertisements and newspaper articles. The ones seen in the France Pavilion are plastered with the works of French artists, many promoting upcoming exhibits.
There is a lovely park-like setting bordering the “Seine.” Although not accessible to the public, this area of the France Pavilion was inspired by the famous painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by pointillist artist Georges Seurat. In reality, this was better illustrated before International Gateway was build and the embankment installed.
It was the Imagineers’ desire to create an urban ambiance in the France Pavilion that reflects perpetual springtime in Paris. To achieve this, landscaping plays a vital role. Flowers, blossoming trees, and colorful plants can be seen everywhere. With this foliage, it was hoped that an atmosphere, capable of inspiring an impressionist artist, would be achieved.
Jardin à la française (French formal garden) is a style of landscaping based on balance and symmetry. The idea is to impose “order” into nature. This style of gardening reached its apex in the 17th century when landscape architect André Le Nôtre used his talents at Versailles. In the decades that followed, this style was widely copied by other courts of Europe. A recreation of this gardening technique can be seen in the France Pavilion.
Between the France Pavilion and International Gateway is an elaborate fleur de lis.
Behind The Tea Caddy and The Queens Table shops in the United Kingdom Pavilion is a wonderful example of an English cottage garden. In days of old, homeowners would work small patches of their land and grow food items to help supplement their diet. A variety of fruits and vegetables were often planted. Herbs were also found in these gardens, but they were usually planted for medicinal purposes rather than as a seasoning. As the country became more prosperous and fruits and vegetables easier to obtain, flowers began to find their way into these plots. Today, cottage gardens overflow with greenery and color.
The row houses at the back of the pavilion face out onto Disney’s version of Hyde Park. Anyone familiar with the real Hyde Park knows that this replica has been scaled down considerably. This area is one of the most peaceful in World Showcase. There are a number of park benches throughout the square and this is a wonderful spot to just sit, relax, and soak in the ambiance.
In the early years, a topiary of Mary Poppins could be found here. With the advent of the annual Flower and Garden show, we began to see less and less topiary in Epcot during the rest of the year. By reducing their numbers during the non-festival months, it became more special during the event.
Across from Hyde Park is a hedge-maze fashioned after the Somerleyton Hall Maze created in 1846. Note, the bushes are about 2½ feet tall so only the youngest of children would find this puzzle challenging. However, it’s very common to see adults maneuvering through this classic English maze.
Near the UK Pavilion restrooms is a typical English Renaissance garden and a fountain.
Even though vast portions of the China and Japan Pavilions have been given over to landscaping, when most people think of gardens and World Showcase, they think of the Canada Pavilion and Victoria Gardens. This lovely area was inspired by Butchart Gardens found in British Columbia.
In 1888, Robert Butchart began manufacturing Portland cement in Ontario. He was successful and eventually moved to British Columbia, attracted by the rich limestone deposits found in this area. In 1904, he put down roots here and opened a new factory.
As the years passed, the pit near his home grew deeper and deeper and eventually the deposits of limestone were depleted, leaving an ugly eyesore. However, his wife Jennie, conceived a plan for resurrecting this bleak pit. From farmlands nearby, she requisitioned tons of top soil and had it hauled by horse and cart to the pit. Once the wasteland was covered with nutritious earth, she began to plant an array of trees, shrubberies, and flowers and bit by bit transformed this hole-in-the-ground into the lush garden it is today.
Although Disney’s Victoria Gardens can’t compete in size with the original Butchart Gardens, they are stunningly beautiful. Flowers are always in bloom and the grass is always verdant green. The Imagineers even included Canada’s national symbol, the maple tree. A stand has been planted adjacent to the gardens. And here’s an interesting fact for you. The snowy winters of British Columbia haven’t been forgotten. During the colder months of the year (by Florida standards), the Disney horticulturist plant white flowers and white-leaved shrubberies to suggest snow. As spring approaches, these white patches are scaled back to the shaded areas beneath the trees to suggest lingering snow. You can see an example of this in the fifth and sixth picture.
Well this finishes up the landscaping of Epcot. I hope you’ve enjoyed our trip around the world looking at the lush growth that graces these pavilions. Check back next week when I’ll be discussing the landscaping of Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom.