Apr 06

Food & Wine: Topiary Takeover

by Staff

The Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Food & Wine Festival is under way and besides the specialty cuisine, fine wine and an expanded lineup of craft brews, one of the best things about the Festival is the atmosphere which can arguably be attributed to our larger-than-life topiaries.

It’s easy to say that our topiaries are enchanting once completed, but their development and execution is no piece-of-cake. We sat down with Joe Parr, Director of Horticulture at Busch Gardens and Adventure Island, to discuss how he got into the field and what exactly goes into the creation of the Food & Wine Festival grand topiaries.

1. How did you get into horticulture?

I had great role models, my parents and my grandparents were very aware of nature and plant materials. There are many great horticulturally prominent places near D.C. and Virginia, where I grew up. The gardens are impressive, as were the great events that occurred there. My dad was a nuclear engineer, but he took a lot of pride in our home and he made sure that he kept the best lawn on the block!

My mom was very much into detail, art and beautiful things. She noticed everything, and I learned a great deal from her. My grandparents had an amazing fruit and vegetable garden in the European tradition where I have many great memories. We were all close and the passion for gardens definitely rubbed off, but it would be many years before I knew it would become my career. I earned my Bachelor of Science degree from Virginia Tech-Blacksburg and interned with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

I had inspiring and supportive influences in college and in my professional career. I bartended through college and ran my own business for years with friends, then two months after graduating I was hired by a theme park.

2. What gave you the inspiration for Spirit of Spring?

The original inspiration came from the fact that the Food and Wine Festival is an early spring festival. I remembered a turn of the last century Art Nuevo bronze (actually a candlestick) that I had admired which became the inspiration for Spirit of Spring. Art Nuevo has great flowing lines that suggest movement and graceful natural beauty. It inspired the subway entrances in Paris and the Middle Earth architecture of the elves in the Lord of the Rings.

3. How long does it take to install the topiaries for the Food & Wine Festival? Can you take us through that process?

From a concept to a realized art piece, a grand topiary takes about one year to build. It starts with an idea which is sketched out on paper or designed on computer software. The next stage is often to build a model in clay then enlarge it to a full-scale steel structure. An interior frame is installed and wrapped so that the outer layer can be stuffed with sphagnum moss which serves to anchor the plants, and to hold water and nutrients. An internal irrigation system is then added and helps keep tough to reach areas moist and saves on maintenance labor.

4. How are plants chosen for each of the topiaries?

The plants are selected based on texture, color, ability to grow in sphagnum and adaptability to meticulous grooming, and then installed in a recognizable pattern. Individual plant plugs are inserted one square inch at a time, which is a monumental testament to the hard work and dedication of our entire landscape team. Our regular maintenance horticulturists and irrigation team exceeded expectations and supplemented the impressive work of the topiary team and did an outstanding job to get the show open on time. Spirit of Spring is home to over 160,000 tiny plants!

5. Can you tell us a fun fact about Busch Gardens’ topiaries?

Our Lion, Tiger and Commerson dolphin frames were fabricated by William Robertson who is noted for his work on the movie Edward Scissorhands. The final frame that he built in his career is in Busch Gardens by the Garden Gate Lagoon.

6. How many topiaries are there at the Food and Wine Festival?

This year, we have 12 horticulture masterpieces, including Darwin the Orangutan, the all-new grand topiary stunningly planted with Bronco ornamental sedge and reindeer moss.

Though making topiaries is no easy task, seeing them at the Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Food & Wine festival is! The best way to see all your favorite concerts and experience our larger-than-life topiaries is with a Busch Gardens Fun Card. And for a limited time, when you buy a 2017 Fun Card, you get a FREE Adventure Island Fun Card. Click here for more info.