Pumpkins in July? Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Is Growing “The Dark Side Of The Gardens” for Halloween

 

When It Comes to Creating “The Dark Side Of The Gardens” for Halloween,
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s Horticulture Team has to Start Early


TAMPA, Fla. (July  2012) 
– As Busch Gardens began preparations earlier this year to transform the park into “The Dark Side of the Gardens” for its 13th annual Howl-O-Scream event this fall, the horticulture team realized that they faced a challenge: It’s hard to find heirloom pumpkins and winter squash in Tampa in October.

Their solution? To research seeds and plant their own heirloom pumpkin patch. Heirloom pumpkins are the antique varieties of fruits and vegetables not normally found in mainstream produce markets. Heirlooms often feature unusual shapes, unexpected colors, plus a very flavorful flesh. Busch Gardens’ crop of pumpkins is destined not for pies, however, but for the delight of park guests who will be ready for the cooler temperatures and Halloween fun that pumpkin season signals.

Pumpkins growing on a tree at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay!

“Last year was our first try at pumpkin farming which ended in miserable results due to heavy rains,” said Busch Gardens’ Director of Horticulture, Joe Parr. “This year, we started in February with raised beds of rich compost made right here at the park with zoo and landscaping debris, and are watering with a water-conserving drip irrigation system.”

It must be working: The pumpkin experiment has yielded more than 60 fruits so far, much to the excitement of the proud gardeners who coaxed the vines from seeds by hand-pollinating the flowers with cotton swabs… and who are now sharing their office with piles of pumpkins.

Some examples of the different varieties of pumpkins they have grown at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

Pumpkins are all American members of the squash family and have been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. When Columbus discovered America, he found the native people growing a variety of pumpkin which would come to be named Seminole. Busch Gardens’ pumpkin patch features the Seminole, as well as La Estrellas, a tropical pumpkin hybrid from the University of Florida. Both thrive in Florida’s heat and humidity. Parr’s team is also growing Rouge Vif d’Etampes (also known as the “Cinderella pumpkin”,) tiny Jack-Be-Littles,  warty, dark-green Marina di Chioggias, the 50- to 60-pound“Big Max,” and even a “Pumpkin Tree,” which is actually a rare orange eggplant with tiny, ribbed fruits.

The challenge now will be to keep the ripe fruits looking their best until September when autumn harvest displays appear in the park for both day guests and Howl-O-Scream visitors to enjoy. If properly stored, pumpkins can last up to a year in Florida.

A member of the Busch Gardens Tampa Bay horticulture team with one of their many pumpkins!

“As the summer temperatures soar,” says Parr, “it’s nice to think that October’s chill and pumpkins are coming soon.”

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Cooling Off at Winter Summerland – Summer Course

One of my favorite activities outside the parks is playing miniature golf at Walt Disney World. There are four courses between the two miniature golf locations: Winter Summerland with the Winter and Summer courses and Fantasia Gardens with the Gardens and the Fairways courses. You can see some great pictures here that Shelley took of the Winter course from when we played last year. I have played all four of the courses at WDW, but the Summer course is definitely my favorite. It is a great place to escape the parks to slow down and enjoy a nice afternoon with family or friends. Now that the miniature golf courses are included in the Water Parks Fun & More option (before 4pm only), it makes it even easier to sneak away for a quick 18 or even 36 holes. Course hours are typically 10am to 11pm, weather permitting, so please call ahead if it looks questionable. Regular fees are $12. ages 10 and up and $10. for children 3 – 9. There are also great discounts for Annual Passholders and Cast Members at 50% off as well as half off second rounds if anyone wants to play another 18.

Disney does theming and attention to detail better than almost anyone else, and this is a huge part of what makes this miniature golf experience even more magical than your average putt putt place. The course is designed by Santa’s elves and themed around some of your favorite summer activities like fishing, going to the beach, surfing and building sand castles. Each hole has a sign introducing it with a clever tip with instructions on to how to best attack the hole to get the best score. Some of my favorite details are the names on the surfboards and inner tubes, as well as the bumper stickers on the “elfstream” trailers. I think it is great that the Imagineers took the time to put such great care in to creating these courses.

Each time I visit the Winter Summerland courses it makes me feel a little bit cooler, and happier (jollier?) with the great Christmas theme, even if I’m playing the warmer themed Summer course. I imagine the Christmas music playing in the background doesn’t hurt in setting the mood. This is one of my favorite things to do on a warm summer evening and I have a feeling I’ll be sneaking off for a round sometime in the very near future. Have you ever played these courses or Fantasia Gardens? Do you have a favorite? What are some of your favorite details? Let me know.

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I’m including the gallery of pictures as well if you want to click to see some of the details a bit better. Enjoy!

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