North American Conference was by Katy Moss Warner. Her talk was titled, Making a Difference with the Disney Garden Experience.
|No slides, but she kept us captivated! |
I told her later that I could have
listened to her all day!
She had no slides to show, hence all I have to show is the one bad photo I took from my seat. What she did have to tell was stories. Great ones. The rest of the photos you see here I took during different trips to Disney World over the years.
She was Director of Disney's Horticulture and Environmental Initiatives at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. With a team of nearly 700, she was responsible for the landscapes of four parks, 15 resorts and more than 70 miles of roads on the 30,000-acre property.
|Impressive beds of annuals are still a|
mainstay of the Disney landscapes.
Research brings gardeners out of the darkOne of her first examples, or stories, revolved around the fact that when she first started working there, the horticultural staff was part of the custodial team, working at night after the guests left. Ever a champion for upping the organization's credibility, she started a campaign to get her team to be a more integrated part of the park through education and interaction with the guests. But it started with research. And more research.
Disney is known for being analytical in the way they approach nearly everything they do. They consistently and constantly survey guests. Katy says that survey after survey showed that the guests that rated Disney the highest were the guests that kept coming back. The repeat visitors were of an age where the rides were not the significant factor in return visits. The top three reasons, they stated, through years of survey results, was because of the, one, friendly employees; two, the cleanliness of the parks, and three, the atmosphere."
|Repeated colors and patterns provide visual relief in |
an otherwise chaotic setting.
What this enabled her gardeners to do was to work during the day (a bit easier than gardening at night) and interact with visitors. If an eight-year-old – or an eighty-year-old – visitor came up to a gardener studying a plant, and asked what they were doing, the gardener could likely say that they were inspecting plants for insects – and then pull out a bookmark out of their pocket showing one side of beneficial insects, and the other with bad bugs – and the give them the bookmark to take home. Then they might pull out a magnifying glass and give it to the guest to look for good and bad bugs in their own backyards. I loved this. Her staff became part of the park experience while educating at the same time.
|Baskets here also provide some screening from the sun.|
Gardening upwardsIn another instance, she mentioned that early on, the majority of all gardening was happening on the ground – in garden beds. She had mentioned at the beginning of the talk that Walt Disney himself believed that the landscape was an integral part of the park experience, but that it had been a long time of doing similar gardens in similar ways.
Again, through research, it was determined that the typical guest's view across the park was from 0-15º and that the upper reaches of that 15º was not being utilized as an extension of the gardens or horticultural design. Working to change that, the use of significant hanging baskets was incorporated into the parks to raise the eye levels, as well as provide some visual continuity (and visual relief) over stretches of the parks. It was a welcome distraction from the visual cacophony of tourists – providing a swaths of consistent color and pattern.
|Newer parts of the park sometimes look|
like ideas you'd find on Pinterest. This particular
arrangement predates Pinterest
by many years though!
New tourist draw challenge metIn another story, she relayed that in the late '80s and early '90s when a new attraction at the park was created, it took thousands of people and hundreds of millions of dollars (think Disney MGM Studios, Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach). Departments were tasked with finding ways of bringing in guests in other, less expensive and intense ways.
Seizing the opportunity, Katy and her staff created the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. It provided an opportunity for the hort team to organize educational designer presentations, bring in special gardening experts, themed flower and garden displays with tips and tricks guests could try at home, interactive activities and play areas for kids, topiary of Disney characters, have special seasonal foods available, and even a concert series. Better yet, the costs to present the Festival were low (compared to creation of an themed ride or attraction), it attracted new and different audiences, and had the ability to encouraged repeat attendance annually.
Katy is President Emeritus of the American Horticultural Society (AHS), a national, not-for-profit, member-based organization with a bold vision of “making America a nation of gardeners, a land of gardens.” Katy served on the AHS Board of Directors from 1992-2000 and then provided day-to-day leadership as President and CEO from 2002-06 before being named President Emeritus.
Katy is also active with America in Bloom (AIB), an organization promoting nationwide beautification through community involvement. She has judged cities for AIB in America and internationally since 2007. She is Vice President of the AIB Board of Directors and Chairs the AIB Symposium and Awards Program Committee.
My take-away, for Buffalo, from her talk? Research is invaluable for justifying any horticultural activity in the tourism realm. Tourism organizations deal with numbers, facts and figures. Fortunately, we do have some data collected over the years for Buffalo - from Zip Code collection to mall-intercept-type interviews done in gardens by professionals. But we need more. We have some basic information, I think we need more. We can build on past research. It just may further legitimize what we're doing in garden tourism and maybe even lead us in new directions.
|Desert plants representing an under-the-sea landscape.|