PGMA Winner: Disneyland

Few sites encounter the thousands of visitors to which Disneyland (Anaheim, Calif.) is host everyday. As a result, its horticulture crew must contend with problems other sites never experience. Grounds-maintenance tasks include performing most chores on the park during the night, finishing irrigation during early morning hours, repairing injured plants and equipment daily, and changing out acres of themed landscaping seasonally.

The park employs between 52 and 57 full-time employees as well as 6 seasonal workers. Combined, these workers put in 2,360 man-hours per week. The special challenges these workers face would be daunting to many. After all, how many grounds crews must perform their daily chores under transportable, generator-powered light towers at night? Nevertheless, personnel turnover is minimal, according to Karen Hedges, manager of horticulture and park enhancement. As a result of their dedication, Hedges and her crew received the Professional Grounds Management Society's Grand Award for best-maintained amusement or theme park.

A trip into Fantasyland Maintaining the landscaping at Disneyland is a time-consuming job that focuses on detail. Most of the landscape crew, for example, arrive at 2 a.m. Crews focus on various aspects at the park each day, including acres of turf, woody ornamentals and display beds.

For example, special attention is given each day to the famous landscaping of Mickey Mouse's face at the park's entrance. After scrutinizing these flowers--which typically comprise more than 150 flats--a crew leader notes any that don't meet the site's quality standards. Then, during the morning meeting, the crew leader describes which plants to remove. (Six times a year, the landscape crew removes every flower from Mickey's face and replaces it with another seasonal variety. The crew completes the entire planting process in less than 8 hours, which is a must because the park opens at 10 a.m.--8 a.m. in summer.) Although the park does not grow its own flowers, local nurseries supply it with between 10 and 500 flats daily.

After passing Mickey's flowering face, visitors encounter Main Street, which represents small-town America at the turn of the century. There visitors discover more examples of the park's attention to detail--for example, the 10-foot-tall elm trees that line the street. Landscape crews replaced the trees about 5 years ago, taking out the oaks that had lined the street during the previous 10 years. In another 5 years, the park plans to replace the elms with a different variety to keep the trees within the off-scale size of Main Street's buildings.

Disneyland grounds crews give similar attention to choosing and maintaining plants for other areas of the park. In Adventureland, crews encourage tropical plants to become somewhat unruly. Frontierland contains displays of cacti, ocotillo, grasses and other arid-habitat plant material, along with a Missouri-plant palette around Tom Sawyer's island. Plants form geometric shapes in Tomorrowland, a contrast to the relaxed beauty of magnolias and macadamia-nut trees in New Orleans Square or the firs and redwoods in Critter Country. Fantasyland contains the most labor-intensive plants to maintain. There, spiraled junipers stagger 12 feet high above eugenia hedges and topiary animals, which require constant attention and a trained eye. Flower color is of great significance here, as it is in ToonTown, the crazy-cartoony land where Mickey, Minnie and other Disney characters reside.

Irrigation requirements are unique In California's often arid climate, irrigation systems are a must to keep plants vigorous. However, runoff from operating them during the day could create a slippery hazard for visitors. Thus, the systems cycle on and off throughout the park between 1 and 7 a.m., allowing crews to clean up wet areas before the park opens. Simultaneously, maintenance crews pass through the park daily performing paint touch-ups on fences or other items to bring the park up to "show" condition before the gates open to guests.

At the end of Main Street, visitors reach the Central Plaza Hub in the middle of the park. There, as in many parts of the park, transformations can take place overnight. Several years ago, for example, the grounds crew completely re-landscaped the area. During the early hours of one morning, crews removed all of the sod, flowers and bushes, replacing them with new plantings. More than 30 people worked in the area to plant Carolina cherries, hundreds of annuals and new sod. In addition, crews removed several 40- to 50-foot ficus trees that overgrew the area so that a new statue of Walt Disney, Disneyland's founder, would be easy to see. By the time the park opened a few hours later, the transformation was complete.

Irrigation controllers are creatively "hidden" in landscaped areas throughout the park. In the Central Plaza Hub, for example, only visitors who look very closely are likely to find that area's controller, concealed in the base of a tree near the plaza's edge. Hidden in its gnarled roots is a simulated section under which the control box is located. The counterfeit section of tree blends naturally into the tree's actual root system.

Pests are rarely a problem at Disneyland. Because crews change out plants and sod so often, weeds and insects rarely get a chance to establish themselves. Nevertheless, the crew retains three licensed pesticide applicators on its staff.

New additions can cause new problems "Fantasmic!" is a nighttime show in Frontierland. On selected weekends, monsters and heroes battle good and evil in the waters of the Rivers of America. When it first opened, people were allowed to view the attraction on nearby lawn areas, trampling the turf. Eventually, crews replaced the turf with paved walkways and terraced the area with azalea planters.

One of the newest "lands" to join the Disney community is Mickey's ToonTown. Based on the movie "Roger Rabbit," ToonTown has the same surreal quality as the movie. Because children are so highly concentrated in the area, ToonTown is a high-maintenance area. Landscape crews spend a lot of time caring for the fenced bedding plants and young trees.

Brightly colored flowering trees and shrubs dot the landscape of ToonTown, enhancing its cartoonish atmosphere. Tabebuia umbellata and Spathodea are two of the trees specially chosen for the area's entrance.

In the off-limits area behind ToonTown, an intricate system of girders and braces support several trees in giant planters far above the ground. Fed by a special irrigation system that snakes its way through the beams, the trees are situated so that visitors inside the park see just their tops.

The site for Disneyland today would be unrecognizable to anyone who visited it before the park opened 25 years ago. Originally covered with orange trees and a few avocado trees, the site has been transformed into a Magic Kingdom of imagination and fun. Its original conception--to provide an escape from the cares of today into the nostalgia of the past, the excitement of the future and the wonderful realm of fantasy--continues to be evident today--perhaps even more so.

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