The dim days of February had a lot of us pining for spring when one snowbound Pennsylvania resident proposed a group tour of Longwood Gardens. Longwood is a premier destination for travelers who love gardens. The Longwood website gives a detailed history of the place. Briefly, the Pierce farming family started planting an arboretum on this site in 1798. Intense development of the gardens began in 1908. That's when wealthy Pierre S. du Pont bought the land and made it his personal horticultural playground. Now visitors can enter any day of the year to experience acres of formal gardens, water features, mature woodlands and many different specialty plant collections.
Blue skies, green grass and flowers of every hue greeted our group of twelve. How do you see it all in one day? (You can't.) We headed first for the Flower Garden Walk. Ancient wisterias pruned like huge bonsais amazed us all. Out came the digital cameras for the first of countless stunning closeups, landscape shots and group photos.
Passing the Small Lake, we found one of the just finished Nature's Castles, with a gorgeous view of the Large Lake. This "Canopy Cathedral" combined rustic construction of reclaimed lumber with charming details, giving it the feel of a meditative retreat in the trees.
Next on the route was the Italian Water Garden, one of four major fountain-based features on site. It's just the place to have you dreaming of or reminiscing about Rome.
Then the group headed uphill past the sunny Meadow and the second Nature's Castle, surrounded by a stand of massive Liriodendron tulipfera, Tulip-trees. We all gained new respect for those towering specimens-suitable only for the biggest of big backyards!
A couple of hours on foot had us hungry and thirsty and a bit tired. Some toured the Pierce-du Pont House and found it fascinating ("Imagine, a silver safe!, and an electric towel dryer from 1911"), while others rested outside. Incredibly, the house cat dozes on a wicker chair while dozens of tourists roam past and photograph him. (See him at the end of the article.)
There's so much more to see. We stayed on site for lunch in the Terrace Restaurant. It's a busy place around noon, but with a choice of cafeteria line or sit-down service, plus outdoor grilling going on, we all soon found a tasty lunch and adjacent tables for comparing notes.
After lunch we visited the Conservatory. "Extensive" doesn't even begin to accurately describe the scale of the indoor facility or the extent of the plantings found within. In fact, if you were only allowed a couple of hours at Longwood, the conservatory would give you a lot of visual bang for your walking buck. In one huge room, an emerald lawn is surrounded with flowers from floor to ceiling. Various wings and attached greenhouses hold breathtaking collections of orchids, succulents and cacti, tropicals, roses, ferns and large water features.
When we finally got our fill, we found seats on the terrace and watched
the hourly Main Fountain display.
What could possibly be left to explore after all this? Even with feet swelling and camera batteries dying, we couldn't bypass the Idea Garden, a demonstration area for all kinds of flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables for home gardens. After the mind-blowing conservatory displays we appreciated seeing plants as we might actually use them ourselves.
Are we done yet? Oh, no. While the most tired of us headed for the exit, a hardy few took the scenic woodland route out, past the Chimes Tower and Waterfall. You could imagine yourself in Europe standing at the base of this impressive stone tower.
It was close to the six o'clock closing time when the last four of us headed for the parking lot. Apple fritters waiting in the car were our delicious blood-sugar boosting reward for the long day of walking, talking and taking pictures.
We couldn't view Longwood entirely in one day. The main Flower Garden Walk, Pierce's Woods and a third treehouse were among the sites we'll have to catch next time. On top of that, there will be the flowers and plants who reach their full glory at other times of year, like summer's water lilies or fall's chrysanthemums. Nor did we take advantage of one of the many special events held throughout the year. There's already some chat at Mid Atlantic Forum about the need for another excursion to Longwood.
Given that any visit to Longwood Gardens will be a Dave's Gardener's delight, here are some details to help you plan your tour. Refer to the website for much more information. You can also read about this garden at Dave's Garden's "Go Gardening." Go Gardening is a database of over 19,000 places a gardener may buy, view or learn about all things horticultural. Click here to go to the Longwood Gardens entry of Go Gardening.
flowerjen- first group photo, Pierce-du Pont House, orchid, catGitagal- tree trunks, fern, Main fountains, (and apple fritters!)ladygardener1- Chimes tower, final group photo (and getting us all there in the first place!)Shirley1_MD- Italian water garden, begonia foliagewind- vegetable gardens, Clivia
Pierce-du Pont house cat displays the utmost relaxation!