While much of the country’s landscape hibernates to escape winter’s chill, spring arrives on butterfly wings for the 17th annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival beginning March 3 at Walt Disney World Resort. Besides browsing the popular Fawn’s Butterfly House at Pixie Hollow, guests can flex their green thumbs and gather bouquets of ideas for their own spring and summer gardening projects.

This year’s festival, which continues for 75 days through May 16, promises to be “a gardener’s dream-come-true,” says festival horticulture manager Eric Darden, because the early opening features more brilliant color and greater opportunity to soak up gardening tips for successful home plantings. Here are some of the highlights:

Guests can sit in on Disney Gardening at Home presentations, scheduled twice daily each Friday through Sunday, to learn valuable tips that Disney horticulturists employ to keep Epcot gardens thriving. There’s a bonus, too: guests will participate in a hands-on, take-home gardening project.

Celebrity gardeners and authors get in on the fun each weekend when they make appearances and share their own gardening secrets during the Great American Gardeners series.

Families won’t want to miss the festival’s first Community Garden, where carefully manicured topiaries of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy oversee a thriving garden of tomatoes, beans, peppers, herbs and other vitamin-rich edibles.

Guests who like to stop and smell the roses can stroll the Fragrance Garden at the France pavilion, where they can sniff the flowers and plants used to create popular Guerlain perfumes.

Each year, expertly crafted topiaries debut across the park, and this year there are several, including the new American Gothic Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse topiaries at World Showcase Plaza based on the 1930 Grant Wood painting. More than 100 topiaries and lush floral beds decorate the park landscape and showcase the craftsmanship of Disney gardeners.

Guests will find useful and decorative gardening merchandise at The Garden Town Festival Center.

Great American Gardeners Series

Green Thumbs” will have a chance to go to “spring training” during the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival at Walt Disney World Resort.  National, regional and Disney gardening experts will be featured in a series of enlightening presentations each Friday-Sunday of the festival, beginning March 5-7.Topics such as “Easy-to-do Water Features,” “The Small-Budget Garden,” “The Truth about Garden Remedies,” “Creating Backyard Garden Retreats” and many more will be presented on designated weekends during the 17th annual festival, which runs March 3-May 16. Here’s the weekend-by-weekend lineup for March and April:

March 5-7
Disney Gardening at Home: Easy-To-Do Water Features
Great American Gardeners: Florida Fruit & Vegetable Gardening (Robert Bowden)

March 12-14
Disney Gardening at Home: Fun Family Gardening Projects
Great American Gardeners: The Truth about Garden Remedies (Jeff Gillman)

March 19-21
Disney Gardening at Home: What’s Old Is New
Great American Gardeners: Gardening with Heirloom Seeds (Lynn Coulter)

March 26-28
Disney Gardening at Home: Butterfly House-How To Create a Pollinator
Great American Gardeners: The Small-Budget Garden (Maureen Gilmer)

April 2-4
Disney Gardening at Home: Disney’s Horticulture Past-Festival Favorites
Great American Gardeners: Bringing Nature Home (Douglas Tallamy)

April 9-11
Disney Gardening at Home: Irrigation ‘How To’
Great American Gardeners: Stylish Sheds & Elegant Hideaways (Debra Prinzing)

April 16-18
Disney Gardening at Home: Creating Backyard Garden Retreats
Great American Gardeners: Sweet Herbal Recipes & the Creative Herbal Home (Susan Belsinger)

April 23-25
Disney Gardening at Home: Disney’s Top Picks for Mixed Containers
Great American Gardeners: His & Hers–What Makes a Great Garden (Tom & Joani MacCubbin)

The opening-weekend Great American Gardeners presenter, Robert Bowden, is executive director of Orlando’s Harry P. Leu Gardens, which features 50 acres of southern-styled gardens.Disney Gardening at Home is presented at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. each Friday-Sunday, withGreat American Gardeners at 12 noon and 3 p.m. on those days.   All sessions take place at the festival’s Garden Town, located adjacent to Mission: SPACE at Epcot.  The opportunity to attend sessions is included with Epcot admission.

Wrapping it Up

More information about the 17th annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is available by calling 407/W-DISNEY (934-7639) or by visiting disneyworld.com/flower. The festival, including all gardening programs and exhibits, is included in regular Epcot admission.

PixieFlowers iPhone Application for the Festival

If you are heading to the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, you can check out our iPhone app, PixieFlowers. Available on the iTunes App Store today.