Landscaping has been an essential part of the appeal of Disney's theme parks since the opening day of Disneyland back in 1955. Morgan "Bill" Evans' work on that park ensured that plants became as much a part of theming on rides such as the Jungle Cruise as characters and Cast Members - if not more so, in some cases. The same philosophy was applied at Walt Disney World - but it was a huge challenge. The resort sits on 25,000 acres of what was essentially swampland, and all plantlife has to deal with the hot, humid Florida climate and a host of hungry insects. Disney established a huge nursery and tree farm, and experimented with different plant species until it found ones that looked appropriate and were capable of thriving. Nowadays, some 4,000 acres are landscaped across the resort's theme parks, hotels, golf courses and other public areas. An army of more than 600 Cast Members is responsible for maintaining this acreage, and carries out a wide range of tasks to do just that. Let's take a look at what these unsung heroes of Walt Disney World get up to...
12. Planting species from all over the world
The first, and most obvious task, for the horticulture Cast Members is to plant and re-plant millions of plants every single year. The team plants around three million bedding plants annually across 300,000 square feet of flowerbeds, as well as tending to 175,000 trees and more than four million shrubs. There are 13,000 rose bushes alone at the resort. 3,000 species of plants representing flora gathered from all over the United States and more than 50 foreign countries can be found at the resort. To help them acclimatize to the Florida heat, Disney often brings them in literally yearsin advance of when they are needed, keeping them at the nursery and tree farm until such time as they are ready to be placed "on stage".
11. Creating topiaries
A team of around 30 Cast Members staffs the nursery, which produces more than 4,000 hanging baskets every year. It also produces the topiaries that add to the theme of the various theme parks and resorts, which can be found in more than 200 designs. There are three main types of topiary on show at Walt Disney World - geometrical, shrub character and spagnum moss character. The geometrical topiaries are the simplest design, and involve pruning a shrub into a pattern. The character topiaries are much more complicated. In both cases, a Disney artist must create a sculpture for the figure, with an artist welder then creating a "skeleton" out of steel. For shrub topiaries, the steel skeleton is then placed over a small plant in a large box, which is allowed to grow and is eventually "trained" into the shape of the frame. Fast-growing, evergreen plants are needed for this type of topiary, and can take anywhere from five to 15 years to mature. Sphagnum moss topiaries can be produced much more quickly. The steel frame is stuffed with un-milled sphagnum moss, with vines or clumping plants being planted in the moss. As the vines grow, they are secured to the moss-filled frame by hair pins. A character topiary can be created in this way within mere weeks.
10. Carrying out daily (and nightly) maintenance
Horticulture Cast Members at Walt Disney World are up bright and early, allowing them to carry out maintenance tasks by the time guests arrive (in some cases, night work is necessary). Every day, they weed gardens, chop dead heads off flowers and replace withering flowers with new ones. According to one former Cast Member, grass is even literally paintedgreen where it has browned due to weather stress! When a change is demanded or a special project is required, the Cast Members can work through the night to completely transform a garden from one day to the next.
9. Clearing up hurricane damage
Hurricanes are a fact of life in Central Florida, and can do extensive damage to the carefully-crafted landscaping at Walt Disney World. This can include flooding, as well plants being pulled out the ground and deposited elsewhere. Typically, the horticulture crews are able to repair most of the visible damage within days (with lots of overtime required), although backstage work can continue for much longer.
8. Mowing the lawn
There are 2,000 acres of turf at Walt Disney World, and all of its gets mowed at least twice a week. This requires an astonishing 450,000 mowing miles every year to keep the grass in shape. That's the equivalent of 18 trips around the Earth at the equator
7. Setting the scene
The landscaping sets the scene in every area of Walt Disney World's theme parks. Nowhere is this more true than at Disney's Animal Kingdom, with its overarching nature-based theme. In DinoLand USA, for example, the various plants showcase some of the oldest genera of plants on the planet. Ferns and early angiosperms are used to help set the scene, as well as telling a hidden story of how plants evolved. To recreate the lowlands surrounding Mount Everest for Expedition Everest's Forbidden Mountain, more than 900 bamboo plants, 10 species of trees and 110 species of shrubs were planted. In total, around 2.5 million individual grass plants and 100,000 trees were planted during the creation of Disney's Animal Kingdom. That includes the largest collection of flowering trees in North America, the largest collection of African species outside of Africa and the third largest cycad collection in the United States.