ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Tuscan Garden featured in the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is more than just pretty trees, shrubs and flowers.
"It's beautiful, of course. But it also has a message: sustainability," said Eric Darden, horticulture manager. "We have fruit trees, herbs, vegetables. We practice water conservation. We use recycled materials."
The theme of the garden is "green," but it is done in an upscale way to appeal to homeowners, explained Jeff Thompson, senior landscape architect. "It's sustainable chic."
Designed to look like a Tuscan hillside farmyard, the garden features olive and citrus trees, artichokes and peppers, grapes and strawberries, thyme and oregano -- all clearly labeled.
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There are nasturtiums for salads, lavender for sachets -- and petunias, verbena and daisies simply to delight the eye.
But most importantly, said Thompson, the garden also incorporates all nine principles of sustainability.
Reduce storm-water runoff. Copper gutters on the Tuscan pavilion channel rainwater into recycled wine barrels for storage.
Water efficiently. Drip irrigation using tubing with perforations is used instead of wasteful overhead sprinklers. Also, watering is done in the early morning, when the evaporation rate is low.
Mulch. To reduce evaporation and inhibit weed growth, abundant and inexpensive pine straw is used for mulching flowerbeds.
Protect waterfronts. Positioning aquatic plants along shorelines, and even in the water, helps filter out impurities while protecting against erosion.
Plant appropriately. Choose the right plants for the right location, Thompson said. Drought-tolerant species in hot, dry locations, for example.
Compost waste. Feed lawn and garden clippings, dead leaves, vegetable parings and other organic waste into a composter. Use the compost, rather than chemicals, to enrich the soil and improve its texture.
Use containers. Plant flowers, herbs, vegetables and even fruit trees in pots to concentrate water and fertilizer, reducing waste.
Attract wildlife. Use trees, flowers and water to create a habitat for birds, squirrels, butterflies, etc.
Manage pests carefully. Use pesticides sparingly. Applying too many pesticides destroys the "good bugs" that naturally control "bad bugs."
Initially, visitors are attracted by the Tuscan garden's beauty -- its pergola and pavilion, patio and winding pathways, water features and abundant vegetation.
Once there, they linger, intrigued by the signs spelling out the many eco-friendly techniques used to create a haven of beauty.