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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Roses of Walt Disney World

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

Walt Disney’s wife Lillian loved roses, and they were prominent in her home garden. They were one of the reasons Walt had to build an underground tunnel for his Carolwood Pacific railroad–so as not to disturb Lillian’s rose garden.

As a result, roses were prominent at Disneyland from its opening, and are in abundance at Walt Disney World.

The Rose Walk Garden at Epcot was initiated for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival in the 1990s, and was such a crowd pleaser that it was maintained year-round, although roses are cut back part of the year.

Another popular Walt Disney World location for roses is the lawn side wedding courtyard at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. Roses and gardenias surround a gazebo, creating an intoxicating scent and just the right touch of romance for an outdoor wedding.

Unfortunately, with the expansion and redesign of the Hub at the Magic Kingdom in 2014, the beloved Plaza Rose Garden that had delighted guests with its beauty and tranquility since 1980 was removed.

A few of the first roses planted in that garden were All American Rose Selection 1980 winners Love, Honor and Cherish and 1981 winners White Lightning, Bing Crosby and Mariana. Over the years, the garden also displayed St. Patrick, All That Jazz, Betty Boop, Barbara Bush and Candelabra, just to name a few of the many roses that brought a smile to guests.

The garden was located between Cinderella Castle and the entrance to Tomorrowland. Many different species of roses could be found along the winding pathway that led to a covered area with benches that used to be the dock for the Swan Boats.

The garden was the recipient of the July 1985 All-America Rose Selections Inc.’s Public Rose Garden Award given for contributing to the public interest in rose growing through its efforts in maintaining an outstanding public rose garden.

Disneyland Rose
(c) Disney

Shrub roses in different shades of pink were also on display in front of the castle, and old fashioned Louie Philip roses were in the broken planter in front of the Haunted Mansion. Those at Haunted Mansion challenge the gardeners to make the plants look neglected and overgrown.

The process of keeping roses pristine on property includes a soft-cut back in October and a hard cut-down in February or March, saving only four to six of the best branches for fertilization.

When it is warm again, the roses appear in full bud. A drip-line irrigation system is used to ensure that each root has its own water emitter with drainage at the base of the rose, as opposed to a traditional overhead irrigation system.

Walt Disney World garden specialist Allison Brooks said, “They like a well-drained environment in soil that doesn’t retain excess water at the base. They are sprayed weekly for pest control and with fungicide which helps also keep away those unsightly black spots and helps to keep them beautiful and romantic all the time.

“The rose is an easy flower to take care of, since you can plant it and let it grow with minimum trim. We are lucky in Florida, because it’s warm here most months, so the roses will bloom here throughout the year.”

Some of the myriad of rose varieties that can be found on Walt Disney World property include Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras and Floribundas. A particular Floribunda that can also be found is the Disneyland Rose.

Disneyland Roses were first bred in the United States in 2003 by Dr. Keith Zary in conjunction with John Walden. It was introduced to the general public the following year by Jackson & Perkins. Disney fans can purchase a Disneyland Rose directly from them.

This wonderful floral creation was the product of cross breeding the Hot Tamale rose with the rose Sequoia Gold. The result is an extremely colorful blend of orange and pink hues. Despite its beautiful color, it has only a slight fragrance, but what it does have is light and spicy. It continues to change color as it matures so it may start out apricot or copper in color.

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Thanks, Jim!  And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition, and Hidden Treasures of the Disney Cruise Line.


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