5 Landscaping Tips from Disneyland’s Horticulture Manager
It may be the most magical place on earth, but those hippo-shaped hedges don’t shape themselves. We got the inside scoop on the landscaping at Disneyland and how the park is kept looking pristine and pruned at all times.
Statuesque topiaries, colorful flower beds, and edible plants fill the Disneyland resort and park with tons of green. But, you may not see any gardeners when you’re there. Well, that’s because a majority of the landscaping work is done between 2 a.m. and 11 a.m., and Luis Gomez is leading the team.
“If you love gardening at night, Disneyland is the place to be,” Luis says.
Luis is the horticulture manager and landscape designer at Disneyland and is one of 200 cast members that tend the grounds. He started working at Disneyland resort as a part-time gardener in 2012 and started in a management position three and a half years ago.
“Horticulture has been my life since I can remember,” says Luis. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture and has been working in the field ever since. “I love how landscape just beautifies and enhances the scenery of a building. It creates a great atmosphere, and I get to enjoy that here and see all the magic it brings to all our guests.”
Luis works on landscaping installments, delegating tasks throughout the park, and even designs planting areas. After figuring what areas of the park need work or redesigning, he pitches his designs to Disney Imagineering. Once the design is approved, Luis gets to see his designs come to life in the park and resort.
“When I see like what [a planting] was to what it is now, it's a great sensation for me,” says Luis. “Disneyland's been a great place for me. I have a lot of growth here, good opportunities to learn and experience.”
Here are five important things he’s learned along the way:
1. Pick a Theme
Each area of Disneyland has a different theme, which is evident in its landscaping. Adventureland is tropical, Tomorrowland is all about sustainability (so lots of fruits and veggies), and Fantasyland is full of whimsical pink and purple plants.
Even within those areas, certain rides and buildings have their own color schemes and themes. Spookier areas like Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Haunted Mansion use a lot of dark colors like red, burgundy, and dark purple. It’s A Small World relies on a lot of topiaries and geometric shapes to complement the style of the building.
But, Luis and his team are always on the lookout for ways to improve the landscape and tweak their plant choices. They look for varieties or species that are more drought tolerant or disease resistant to fit into each theme, which is definitely something you can do as you're planning your garden.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Change It Up
When Luis first started, many of the planting areas relied on one type of flower or plant throughout. Throughout the years, the landscaping team has been experimenting more with planting partners throughout the park. This can translate to your own garden, too: Instead of filling a flower bed with just begonias, try mixing in some patterned coleus with similar hues.
“Now that we started redesigning, we're doing snapdragons intermixed with anemones,” Luis says. “Different types of plant material give different textures, height, color, creating a more aesthetically pleasing landscape.”
3. Think About the Environment
It’s easy to get caught up in the aesthetics of a garden without thinking about the bigger picture. Especially in California, where water is a recurring concern, it’s important to think about using drought-tolerant plants. You can be mindful of water through plant selection or gardening practices (or both!).
“The hotels are introducing a lot of plant material that was never introduced here before, more drought tolerant wherever it's possible,” Luis says. “As a result, we have over eight hundred species of plants and we're continuing to grow.”
One area of the park that gets a lot of questions about water usage is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a roller coaster with water elements. According to Luis, that’s one of the many areas where they try to introduce more drought-tolerant, water-savvy plants.
Splash Mountain, a log ride, is another area where Disneyland uses a lot of water. So, they implemented an eco-mat, which is a drip irrigation blanket. It was installed under the creeping red fescue grass in the area. The mat is like a blanket gets water from drip lines and keeps the soil moist. With this addition, they do less watering than they would need to do with regular drip or overhead irrigation.
4. Research New Varieties
One of Luis’s favorite experiences at Disneyland so far? Being a part of the first black and white Mickey planting. Right inside the entrance of the park, there is a flower bed that is planted to created Mickey Mouse’s face with colored annuals—it's one of many iconic landmarks at Disneyland. But, up until 2016, it was never truly black and white like the famous character. They used dark purple flowers instead to fill in the black sections.
“A couple years back, they started making the black petunia,” Luis says. The team tested these new petunias at Snow White’s Scary Adventure to see how it performed before implementing it in such an iconic place. It performed very well, and the following season, they actually made their first black and white Mickey Mouse. Since then, they’ve also tested a new black violet in the Mickey Mouse planting.
If there's a specific color, pattern or feature of your favorite plant that you've never been able to find, keep your eye out and do some research. Chances are, others are wanting the same variety you are and at least one plant supplier is working on creating the latest and greatest.
5. Really Pay Attention to Watering
"I think a lot of people tend to overwater plant material,” Luis says. “I think plants will be more successful if you really do spend the time to check soil condition and not overwater,” Luis says knowing your water requirements is probably the most important trick in horticulture. After all, no one likes soggy soil.
Gardening is always a process, and you're bound to learn something new along the way. Even Luis, who's been working at Disneyland for over a decade, has new experiences, innovations, and challenges every day. Your backyard may not be Disneyland, but you can garden like it is.