February 19, 2015

Cloud pruning at a theme park? At Orlando's Universal Studios Resort, yes!

What if Dr. Seuss was your gardener? 

It's an occupational hazard of sorts: being interested in plants and landscape design has its drawbacks when travelling, You pay good money to get away, soak up some sun, do a bit of shopping, or experience some Wonders of the World and all you can see are...plants. How they are unlike the ones you see at home, how great or bad they are used in designs, how hard is it to get some seeds or cuttings past customs. Sympathetic spouses and family are priceless in this regard.

We (family and I) escaped from Toronto last weekend and stayed in comparatively "scorching" Orlando, Florida at Universal Studios theme park.

 (I can't think of a better word than "escape" as frigid air from the Arctic flowed into the Great Lakes area resulting in minus 40 degree C. windchill while we were away. I had images of the mass of polar air chasing our plane travelling south!)

We haven't been to Orlando since 2011 and were looking forward to warmer temperatures and greener environments. The mornings were cool but by noon, the sun warmed us up and I enjoyed exposing my sunlight-deprived arms to a bit of direct light without worrying about hypothermia.

Universal Studios' main draw for us was the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" as we've read and seen all the books and movies. Short of being on the actual filming locations, the re-creations here of Diagon Alley, the Hogwarts Express train and Hogwarts Castle were excellent. If you can handle the crowds, hour wait time for rides and way overpriced Butterbeer and student robes, you have to visit.



Hogwarts Castle Harry Potter Wizarding World Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Hogwarts Castle
Harry Potter Wizarding World
at Universal Studios, Orlando 


Of course, there is much more to see and experience: dozens vomit-inducing (for me) roller coaster and motion-simulated rides, lots of shows, and thank goodness, a couple of Starbucks. But getting back to the plants...

Being a zone 5 gardener, I know nothing about the wonderful and "exotic" trees, shrubs, palms and cycads thriving in zones 8-10 Florida. I love their forms and the fact that I can see green in February without being in a conservatory or greenhouse if I was back in Toronto. I'm sure, though, that 99.9% of Universal's visitors find the plantings irrelevant which is fair since they're here for the rides and attractions and not on a botanical garden visit. I became part of that 0.1% (even this is extremely generous) as I snapped pictures of flowers and shrubs! (My wife is used to this and is very patient, bless her.)

Eventually, we made our way to the "Islands of Adventure" section and I started to see, well, topiaries and lots of them. Trees shaped into upside flower pots or cupcakes seemed, to me, strange given the action-oriented setting. If anything, they hide the signage.


Topiaries Marvel Super Hero Island Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Topiaries in Marvel Super Hero Island
at Universal Studios, Orlando



A little further down, we entered "Seuss Landing" and then things became very interesting, horticulturally.


Seuss Landing Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Seuss Landing entrance
at Universal Studios, Orlando

You've might have read "The Lorax"  so you'll recognize these Truffula Trees:

Seuss Landing Truffula Trees Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Seuss Landing's Truffula Trees
at Universal Studios, Orlando



I felt a little like Alice through the Looking Glass in the picture below. I wasn't posing, honest. I was merely taking in the bight yellow-orange Truffula 'bloom" against the brilliant Orlando sky.

Truffula Trees Seuss Landing Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Truffula Trees in Seuss Landing
at Universal Studios, Orlando 



The bright colours and non-linear shapes really appealed to me. Things seemed whimsical, trippy, and absolutely asymmetrical, just like the illustrations in a Dr. Seuss book. I don't know why, then, I found these "cloud pruned" trees somewhat incongruous given the setting. They echo the Truffula Trees but I thought immediately of "niwaki", the Japanese practice of pruning or sculpting trees and shrubs in ways to coax their inherent spirit out.

Here's a good link for more information about niwaki: http://www.japanese-gardens-and-niwaki.com/niwaki.htm

Cloud pruning Seuss Landing Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Cloud pruning in Seuss Landing
at Universal Studios, Orlando


Seuss Landing cloud pruning Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Seuss Landing cloud pruning
at Universal Studios, Orlando


Niwaki  Seuss Landing Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Example of Niwaki in Seuss Landing
at Universal Studios, Orlando


Since niwaki embodies a high form of gardening (art?)  in Japan and involves years of practice to master, do the gardeners at Universal possess the same spirit? Do the "mow, blow and go" landscaping crews in your neighbourhood have the same sensibilities? (Ok, the last question was rhetorical!)



Spiral juniper topiary Seuss Landing Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Spiral juniper topiary in Seuss Landing
at Universal Studios, Orlando 

I've seen similar spiral-pruned junipers, ad nauseum, in front of McMansions so it was initially strange to see them here. But it soon made sense: the more contorted the forms, the better.

I made the observation that the same plants (or at least, the same forms) can make sense, design-wise, in seemingly completely different settings. Seuss Landing in Orlando is as far from a formal English garden culturally as can be but the topiaries add whimsy and deliberate eccentricity to both spaces. The topiaries make sense functionally in both locations.

Seuss Landing topiary Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Seuss Landing topiary
at Universal Studios, Orlando


Topiary Seuss Landing Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Topiary in Seuss Landing
at Universal Studios, Orlando

Dr. Seuss-inspired topiaries made me smile.  Not sure if the upper fellow is sitting or standing? Of course, children visiting don't ask such a mundane question--they just find him/her/it funny!


Curved palms Seuss Landing Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Curved palms in Seuss Landing
at Universal Studios, Orlando


Bent palms Seuss Landing Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Bent palms in Seuss Landing
at Universal Studios, Orlando 


Even the palms look like Truffula Trees. Apparently, they were re-used perfectly here after being damaged by Hurricane Andrew.

My thoughts drifted between the formal topiaries in Europe, to the niwaki and cloud pruning traditions in Japan, to my cherished memories of reading Dr. Seuss to my kids so long ago.

Completely unexpected and unanticipated. The garden muses had visited me again!

Below are some flowers blooming here and there throughout Universal. I'm sure they're common as nails to Floridians but I appreciate them nevertheless.

Tibouchina urvilleana edwardsii Glory Flower Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Tibouchina urvilleana edwardsii
(Glory Flower)
at Universal Studios Orlando


Yellow tropical hibiscus rosa sinensis  Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Yellow tropical hibiscus
(Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
at Universal Studios, Orlando


Thunbergia grandiflora Blue Sky vine Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Thunbergia grandiflora (Blue Sky vine)
at Universal Studios, Orlando


Red Powder Puff tree Calliandra haematocephala  Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Red Powder Puff tree (Calliandra haematocephala)
at Universal Studios, Orlando


Pale pink azaleas Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Pale pink azaleas
at Universal Studios, Orlando 

Pink azaleas Universal Studios Orlando by garden muses-not another Toronto garden blog
Pink azaleas
at Universal Studios, Orlando 


I wanted to end this post by providing two links that I think you'll find interesting.

The first is another blogger's post that I stumbled upon. Apparently, someone else found the plantings at Universal worth writing about! I'm relieved to discover that I wasn't the only one with this strange affliction of looking at plants at theme parks.

Here's Beth's post:


The second link leads to a fascinating article about the design process behind Seuss Landing's creation from concept to construction.