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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Longwood Gardens

In 1906 Pierre S. du Pont was 36 when he bought the Peirce farm because he'd heard the 100-year-old arboretum was to be destroyed.  George Peirce had purchased 402 acres in 1700 from William Penn's commissioners.  In 1798 his twin great-grandsons began planting 15 acres of various specimens of trees.  By 1850 the arboretum had become a place for locals to picnic.  By 1906, however, the Peirce heirs had neglected its upkeep and after passing through different owners the trees were to be sold to a lumber mill.  This is when Pierre du Pont stepped in.  Because of his love of the countryside and his boyhood love of running water, he set about turning his new summer home, Longwood, into what is now billed as one of the top 10 public gardens in America.

Longwood Gardens now covers 1,077 acres.  The Conservatory that Pierre built covers four acres.  It also houses a ballroom and music room.  This is where he and his wife, Alice, whom he married when he was 45 years old, would entertain their guests.  The couple never had children so much of their philanthropy work centered on the needs of children--public schools, universities, and hospitals.  The house they lived in was not at all grand.  It was built in 1730 as a simple brick farm house.  In 1914 Pierre du Pont had a matching addition built which was connected to the original house by an atrium. . . .
Architect's rendering of addition to the Peirce-du Pont House, c. 1913

This is what it looks like today.   In the first photo below you can see the original house on the right joined by the atrium to the new addition on the left (in the lower photo). . . .
Click on photo to enlarge⤴
The original house⤴
The new addition which housed his library⤴
 His office was in the older part. . . .

The kitchen was modest.  The safe held the silver.  The contraption at the end of the counter was to repel flies.  If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see what looks like a propeller at the top.  You wind the thing up and the propeller spins its way down the shaft shooing the flies away. . . .
The house was not furnished except for his office.  The other rooms are exhibits telling the history of the house.  If you want to read more of the history you can go here to pick up where I left off above.

I'll begin the tour of the gardens with the Outdoor Garden Map.  It will open in a separate window, so you can refer to it as we go along.  There are several nifty features for all their maps.  If you hover your cursor over the number a photo will appear, and if you click on the title next to the number in the legend below the map you will be taken to more information.  The House is at "C" on the map.  We did not tour the house until just before lunch, but I wanted you to see it first and read about the history to give you an idea of just who the man was who built this amazing garden.

We left the Visitor Center (A) and were standing at the entrance of the Rose Garden (14) reading the sign when an employee, a young man, driving a garden cart stopped to ask us if we needed any help. (Was it so unusual for people to read the signs?)  He started talking about the various gardens and was genuinely enthusiastic about his job.  He'd been their 10 years and after asking how much time we had suggested the areas we should be sure to visit.  He talked about some of his favorite gardens and said to be sure to see the newly-opened meadow.  As we bid him goodbye Ken and I both marveled as to why he singled us out from all the other people milling about.  We don't look decrepit just yet!  But when he asked if there was anything else he could help us with, Ken pointed to his cart and said a ride in that thing would certainly help us see everything there was to see.  He chuckled, but did not say, "Sure!"  Oh well.  We opened our maps and walked through the Rose Arbor (14). . . .

. . . toward the Flower Garden Walk (17). . . .

You can see the top of Square Fountain (29) spouting just above that man's head through the fencing. . . .

Wisteria Garden (16)⤴

We walked down the path toward the lake and noticed this beautiful stand of evergreens. . . .
This gazebo was at the water's edge. . . .

Lake (19)⤴
Canopy Cathedral (20)⤴
View of the Lake from Canopy Cathedral⤴
Italian Water Garden (21)⤴
We followed the path along side the Italian Water Garden to the Meadow Garden (25).  As you can see on the Meadow Garden Map the area is quite extensive.  (Switch to the Meadow Garden Map for corresponding #s now). We only walked along the Boardwalk (4) where I took these photos and the video which gives you an idea of what a lovely day we had weather-wise.  It was in the 70's with a nice breeze. . . .

You should pause YouTube for this video if you have been listening to Chopin in the background. . . .
We stopped to see the railway garden. . . .
 . . . .before touring the house.  There was a little boy there who had gotten ahead of his mother and was pushing the buttons on the many displays.  When he did this on the one we were reading, which caused it to begin at the beginning each time he pushed the button, we kindly asked him to wait before pushing it again and explained why.  He was very sweet to comply and kept asking if it was time yet.  I was dismayed when his mother showed up with his younger siblings and ushered him away before he could push the button when we said it was time.  He had waited so patiently (for him, I'm sure)!  We had a pleasant quick lunch from the cafe which we ate out on the terrace, imagining all the other people there were our guests on our estate or that we were on the palace grounds of Versailles because everyone around us was speaking French!

Feeling a little more perky now that we'd eaten we headed for the Conservatory (1-Outdoor Map).  Here is the Conservatory Map.  We entered through the East entrance (18-Conservatory map) stopping first in the ballroom where they were readying the pipe organ for its automated performance in an hour. . . .

View of the ceiling
When we returned later Ken went "behind the curtain" so to speak to see the pipes in the rooms on the other side of the wall. Until then we went next door to the Music Room (13) where the automated piano was playing. . . .
 You will want to pause Chopin again to listen to these next two videos. . . .
I walked back out into the conservatory's Exhibition Hall (14). . . .
From there we went outside to see an amazing Waterlily Display (22). . . .
The large platters are called Royal Water-platter.  The flower bud, which is both male and female, will open only for two nights.  The first night it will be white and the next it will be red. . . .
Here is one that has started opening. . . .
I'm always in awe of Bonsai exhibits (5). . . .
Training began for this one in 1930.  There were some that were even older.  Be sure to click on the title on the map legend where you can see more Bonsai photos if this interests you as much as it did me. . . .

Cascade Garden (1)⤴
Orchid House (9)⤴
Acaia Passage (11)⤴
At this point we were wishing that fellow with the cart was around so we could beg a ride.  We sat on that bench, above on the right, a while to gather our strength again to keep going. . . .
Main Conservatory (15)⤴

At this point we toured the Indoor Children's Garden (20), but I am saving that for a separate post.  Finished with the Conservatory we returned to the garden just in time to see the 10-minute fountain display. . . .
You will want to pause Chopin again so you can hear the bells that accompanied the fountain display. .   . .
We still had a section of the gardens to explore.  Here is the map again if you care to follow along. . . .
Topiary Garden (8)⤴
Caryopteris Allée (7)⤴
Main Fountain Garden (6)⤴
Chimes Tower and Waterfall (11)⤴
It was only 4:00 when we arrived back at the Visitor Center.  We had not seen everything, but we were tired!  We'd skipped the various "woods" and far flung areas, and had not ventured into the Meadow itself.  I had one last thing to do and that was to purchase the wonderful miniature plants they had for sale in the Gift Shop.  I made my own Conservatory in my miniature greenhouse . . .
Clockwise top left:  Eyelash Begonia, Asparagus fern, Fiscus (in the lower right corner), Blue Job's Tears, Creeping Varigated Fig

Be sure to visit Longwood Garden's website for more information.

Next Time:  Winterthur's Enchanted Woods & Longwood Garden's Indoor Children's Garden


  1. I had no idea that Longwood Gardens were this extensive. You have given a wonderful tour, Cathy. How many days do you think one needs to enjoy this lovely garden? I need to go back and see all the links you have provided. This is a gardeners paradise! The money the du Ponts must have had to create this sanctuary is astonding ! I am certainly glad that it is open for public enjoyment. ♥

    1. If you took your time to walk down every path and read the plant markers and all the exhibits in the house, I'd recommend two days with an early afternoon nap back at your B&B. If you have the stamina and didn't dawdle, you could do it in a day (9 to 5). They have special events from time to time, too, that include fireworks, concerts, and special tours, so you could probably spend even more time there if you planned it right. The best thing, though, would be to go once a season so you can see the changing displays. I think, too, it's best to go when it's not crowded. They sell timed tickets because of the crowds they get in the summer and at special events, but there were no crowds when we were there. Also, we bought our tickets at the B&B at a discount and could go whenever we wanted--no need to buy a timed ticket.

  2. Dear Cathy ~ what a wonderful tour guide you make ~ I don't think you miss a beat, and, of course, if you were a tour guide you'd get the golf buggy! Such a magnificent place, and to think it may have been lost. Sometimes, I despair when I think what little foresight to the future our forebears had. Imagine having a safe in your kitchen! Your photographs, as ever, are superb ~ then I arrived at the water lilies! Oh! My! They are amazing photographs. The reflections of the pads, the bud looking like an alien rising from the surface of the water ~ and all that beauty in just two days before it is spent. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. ~~~waving~~~

    1. Those waterlily pads were quite impressive. There are spikes all along the edge. That particular one was a Longwood Garden hybrid. They had other ones that they got from South America. Some grow large enough to support a person and are used as boats!

      I agree that it is wonderful when people use their wealth in such wonderful ways that serve others. Du Pont opened his gardens to the public from time-to-time while he lived there and would even give guided tours occasionally. After Alice died he would only come on weekends. It was then he started making provisions for the gardens to become public after he died, leaving enough funds to maintain them.

    2. I keep forgetting that you do not have any organisation such as the National Trust in America, do you? Are all estates in private management? Are there government, or other types of funding available? Knowing {for I worked for the NT} what sort of costs are involved, I cannot imagine the fundraising that must happen!

    3. Deborah, I think the only government-funded places are our National Parks, but there are a few National Parks that are not typical (like Yellowstone Park). For instance, the Saint Gauden's National Historic Site I wrote about in June is government-funded and is considered a NP. I don't know how many such sites there are. I should check, though, because we have a NP senior pass which gets us in free now. Longwood is run privately, but was endowed by du Pont. A Trust was set up for it by him. The admission fees are used to help maintain it, but I suspect they have fundraisers for new exhibits like when they enlarged the waterlily pond and brought in the first large-platter lilies and started their own propagation. They also rent out space for private functions and their gift shop brings in revenue.

  3. What a cultural education I'm getting thanks to you, Cathy. Another excellent virtual tour. I was really struck by how much of the Longwood house looked like some homes I see and like today, even new construction. The office at Longwood could be found at any time on say, Houzz. I will admit though, that I've never seen a safe in a kitchen [or dining room] in a magazine or online. Never saw lilypads like that either. Wow. Big colorful round horticultural trays. I love brick and wrought iron in a garden too. The house, the lake with the bridge, the walkways - very traditional, very Early American. Just my style. And your videos made it all come alive. I watched several of them multiple times just to hear to the water sounds, the chimes and especially just the wind in the meadow. I think I caught someone speaking French on one of them too. I couldn't have resisted those sweet teeny plants. Now I want some creeping variegrated fig too. You're right about seeing these places in different seasons too. Fall, Spring and maybe Christmas. Can you imagine how glorious the Christmases must have been there in duPont's day? It certainly would be something to see it dressed for the holidays. When I visit these grand homes myself, or read your garden posts, it really makes me think. And then I wonder just who was the first human to bring a flower bud or a plant into the cave or a tent, in an attempt to "brighten" things up? What a long way we have come. Well, now you've been to so many wonderful historical estates, have you ever thought about a name for your own home? Along with plans and ideas and paint chips and fabric swatches [I even know the architect I want], I keep a list of possibles, so if I ever win the lottery, all I'll need is a lot and away we go! OK, geez I've written a lot. Well, take care and talk to you soon...

    1. Hello Janet! You CAN see Christmas all done up at Longwood Gardens. They have Christmas trees in the Conservatory and lights strung throughout the gardens. Plus the fountain lights are colored! We took the boys there one Christmas season when they were little.

      As for naming our place. I DO have a name for it and I've said plenty of times to my husband that I would like a sign down at the entrance to our driveway attached to a stone wall that says "West Highland Woods". We live on a small wooded mountain just west of town and we have a West Highland Terrier! When we bought the place we could have called Whispering Pines (which I love), but just about all the pines have died in the 32 years we've been here. Then I thought about Persimmon Hill because of all the Persimmon trees we have. But then we got Gabriel, so the name I like now is the WHW. Because I don't have an actual sign, though, I haven't gotten around to calling our place that. Your plans and ideas sound wonderful. Have you made yourself a "Dream Board" and hung it where you can see all the swatches and paint chips? While you're waiting for the real thing, why don't you make a miniature version of your dream?

    2. "West Highland Hills" would be perfect! You have Gabriel - and those hills ARE his of course. I would get on that right away if I were you... :>)

      All the "house stuff" I collected pre-computer is in a big clear plastic box along with paint chips and fabrics etc. Since getting my laptop I have 1000s of photos saved to a flash drive. Too much fun to pore over it every once in a while.

  4. Such beauty in this place! In some ways it reminds me of a garden we saw in Charleston this past spring. When we were recently up in MN at some gardens I really studied Bonsai trees for the first time. I had always seen them but didn't understand them or think much about them. This place had a Japanese garden. Also had those huge water lilies. In fact at first I thought we had been to the same place!

    1. I love Japanese Gardens. I've been to 3--Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, Shofuso in Philadelphia, and Mytoi on Chappaquiddick.

  5. Such wonderful photo's & beautiful flowers, I really enjoyed this post.
    Sorry I am just reading your post, we had a lightning strike & lost the internet for five days.
    Fondly Michelle

    1. I hope there was no damage to your house or trees!

  6. Hi Dearest Cathy,
    Wow what a wonderful post!! So much to see and learn!! You have such great experiences that you share!
    I wish that I could view it from my laptop ( that is now crashed) but everything still is so lovely on my kindle! :-)
    Thanks for sharing, I will have to come back and see this again
    Many Blessings and warmth, Linnie

    1. Dearest Linnie! I hope you can get your computer up and running without too much expense. I ended up getting a new hard drive for mine a few months ago when a power outage at the moment I was using an application caused a "fatal error"! I'm glad you enjoyed learning about Longwood. I enjoyed sharing it!


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