Meet one of the faces behind the beautiful topiaries at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. Diego attended the University of Alabama as a Biology major and dreamed of an internship with Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. Spoiler alert: his dreams came true with a horticulture internship at Walt Disney World Resort!
What’s your favorite part about your role?
I love to help set up the display work, whether it’s potting plants or creating the topiaries throughout the park. It’s amazing to know that people are blown away by something that I created.
What has been your favorite thing you have done in your internship thus far?
Making the topiaries! It was so fulfilling to take these metal frames that vaguely look like a character, and slowly add plants and life to it until the character topiaries look like they could’ve walked out of the movie and into Epcot.
What do you do on a day-to-day basis for the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival?
At the beginning of the day, we look for any plants that need a little attention around the Festival Center and help our VIP guests get ready for their presentations. I walk around the Festival Center to make sure everything is show-ready and interact with guests.
How long does it take to create a topiary?
The average time varies. If we already have a frame built, we can have one completely assembled and ready for the show in a week or two. If we are introducing a new character, we meet with Disney Imagineers, artists and horticulture specialists to decide how it will look – including the types of plants that will be used to make the topiary. This can take upwards of a few months to a year.
What are the different steps you go through to create a topiary?
We start with a laser-etched model of the character that has been designed by artists. From there, the metal skeleton is created and welded together. Irrigation tubing is added so the topiary is watered as needed. Plastic mesh wiring is applied around the frame and sphagnum moss is then packed into the frame. We use the sphagnum as an alternative to soil since it can hold its shape. It won’t fall apart when it gets wet. The plant is then encouraged to grow in the direction we want it to by fastening it down with hair pins. This process is repeated for the entire topiary. We can easily use over 2,000 hair pins in one topiary and over 100 plant plugs.
What topiaries did you work on?
I worked on Snow White, Pumba, the bromeliad dragon in the China pavilion, the Fantasia ostriches in front of The Land, Beast, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Donald and Panchito Pistoles.
What advice would you have for future applicants that want to do a Disney Professional Internship?
Keep an open mind. You’re here to learn. I came into this internship with a strong background in animals from my degree, but I was very weak with my plant knowledge. Through my internship, I’ve grown to love plants and even started my own garden. I now want to pursue a career with the Disney Horticulture department. It’s best to come with some idea of what you want to take away from the internship but continue to keep an open mind and be willing to adapt and change.
The best thing about any internship is the experience you’ll gain from actually doing work outside the classroom. But there is something special about Disney internships, and to me it’s the element of magic that all interns and myself get to bring to guests. We get to bring smiles, happiness and joy to people of all ages just by the simple act of doing our job. It’s an amazing experience that I still can’t believe I get to be a part of.