EXCLUSIVE: Where Disney character topiaries get final touches

By Allison Walker Torres, Entertainment Reporter/Anchor
Last Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018, 5:06 PM EST

We now know what your favorite character topiaries are up to when they're not the subject of selfies at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.

Spectrum News 13 got exclusive access Thursday to the 5-acre Walt Disney World Nursery, located in an unmarked area on Disney property. The public is not allowed in, but we got to check out how the plants, flowers, and topiaries get 'show ready.'

More than 70 character topiaries take up three of the 12 greenhouses in the nursery.

"Most of them we just let get really hairy," laughed horticulture manager Eric Darden. "I'm being serious! We'll just let them grow out. It usually takes a couple of weeks to get them back into shape.

Here are a few fun facts:

  • Topiaries are irrigated from within
  • 20-30 topiaries remain show-ready year-round for use at special events, like weddings
  • "Thousands" of women's hair pins are used to hold the vines on a single topiary

Gardeners are making final tweaks right now, whether it's painting Donald's eyes or trimming Mickey's head. When they think they're all done, the topiaries must go through another set of eyes.

"We can't put them on show until the Disney artists say, 'That looks like Snow (White) or that looks like Dopey," Darden said.

In another greenhouse, we saw 145 floating gardens.

"All this is is polystyrene, like you'd find in an ice chest," veteran area manager Heather Will-Browne told us. "It floats!"

Her team found just the right kind of cascading plant to live above the water.

"It you looked underneath," she showed us, revealing the polystyrene, "you can see it's not very attractive. So we picked Dichondra Silver Falls."

As for themed gardens, the brand new moss ones will soon get transported to the Japan Pavilion. Over in Mexico, one of the cast members revealed a secret on how they replicate a rainforest.

"(The moss mat) has an adhesive background, so a little Disney magic," said Debbie Mola Mickler, referring to the backside of the mat that will attach to trees. "We're going to peel this off, (and) it's going to look like it has been growing there forever."

We also got to see outdoor kitchens-in-the-making, ones that show people where their food comes from.

"How many people know how beautiful an artichoke plant is?" Will-Browne said, adding that it makes a "beautiful thistle-like flower on the top."

The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs Feb. 28 - May 28.