Fantastical blooms bring their own brand of magic to Disneyland
Every day, thousands of flowers play an important role in making the happiest place on earth one of the loveliest. From the Mickey Mouse-shaped floral display at its entrance to the bursts of color around its much-loved attractions, the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, has long used flowers to create a magical experience for millions of visitors each year.
“It is how we tell our story. Through our landscape, music, costumes, and architecture, everything is brought together,” says Karen Hedges, director of horticulture and resort enhancement.
That story uses 1 million flowering plants annually throughout Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and three hotels on the premises.
It is at Disneyland where flowers make the most impact, helping to define the character of each themed land. Tropical Adventureland welcomes visitors with Anthuriums, Canna lilies, flowering Jacaranda, and coral trees, while Frontierland’s wilderness is created with black-eyed susans growing among the conifers.
Tomorrowland uses the blossoms of its orange trees, along with sustainable gardens, to imagine the landscape of the future. The warm pinks and blues of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Fantasyland are surrounded by flowers in complementary colors, ensuring a picture-perfect backdrop for family photos.
The most striking splashes of floral color can be found at either end of Main Street U.S.A. In the summer, visitors can find fields of marigolds, black-eyed susans, and snapdragons, as well as roses in full bloom. Disneyland’s namesake rose, in a friendly shade of apricot-pink, always welcomes visitors at the main entrance.
It is all part of a vision to immerse visitors in different times and places. Creating Disneyland’s original landscaping for its 1955 opening fell to the legendary landscape designer Bill Evans. Evans also remained a consultant with the park for several years after his retirement. “I was privileged to learn his philosophy,” says Hedges, herself a 30-year Disneyland veteran.
Now it is Hedges and her team who tend to this rich floral legacy. Flower varieties and colors are carefully selected through a planning process that begins with seed trials at off-site floral vendors. She estimates that 95 percent of Disneyland’s plants are grown in California, with the remaining being specialized flowers, such as tulips shipped in from Holland.
“We actually start ordering our annuals and perennials anywhere from eight to 12 months in advance so that we can have a certain color palette, such as a spring palette or one for summer,” she says.
Seed trials help to determine color, as well as disease tolerance and hardiness for Southern California’s dry summers. Once flowers are selected, Disneyland will plant 75 to 80 test flats in small areas. Successful tests lead to plantings of 400 to 500 flats, creating the fields of color that visitors enjoy.
With excellent care provided by Disneyland’s 100 gardeners, flowering plants are replaced only five or six times a year. But one area where flowers are continually replanted is at Disneyland’s entrance. The Mickey Mouse–shaped floral display is created entirely of annuals and is replaced eight times a year to remain pristine. Its only adversary is inclement weather, which in Southern California means the Santa Ana winds and occasional heavy rainstorms.
Hedges is quick to credit Disneyland’s floral success to the park’s gardeners and horticulture managers, most of whom begin their day at 2 a.m., working with the aid of portable tower lights on generators and miner cap lamps for close-up work.
The team effort and careful planning pays off with each flower in full bloom. “We’re creating something that we love to do,” she says. “We know that we are supporting the story we’re telling, and we always receive fantastic feedback in seeing the joy in people’s faces whenever they step into the park.”