Beautiful Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania is one of our favorite places. Some years back we were fortunate to visit during a spectacular display by outdoor artist Bruce Munro, who had festooned Longwood’s pools and gardens with large-scale lighting installations. Imagine my delight when I recently received an email from Longwood, announcing a totally new Munro lighting installation scheduled for next summer!
The extensive outdoor gardens by themselves would be worth spending an entire day and evening in the warm season. Munro’s staggering light displays add an extra dimension once the sun goes down. Longwood is known for its spectacular lighted fountains, some of which reach 130 feet high, and the fountain show is a must-see in any case, but Munro’s works make it even more essential to tour the gardens after dark.
Longwood is a must-see for any gardener or landscaper, and well worth the trip for anyone else, at any time of year. Originally purchased from William Penn in 1700 by the Pierce family, Longwood began as a working farm. The Pierces started a tree collection, which they passed along to Pierre S. du Pont when he bought the property in 1906 to save it from development. Du Pont built the estate into a garden paradise, adding formal gardens, fountains, water features, an outdoor theater, a huge pipe organ and an extravagant conservatory.
Longwood’s elegant conservatory complex, almost five acres under glass, is the centerpiece of this 1050-acre showplace. In the Exhibition Hall, ever-changing seasonal flower displays are surrounded by lush green lawns, fountains and waterfalls. Stately columns support creeping fig and Bougainvillea vines. Behind the three main halls is an elegant ballroom and an amazing pipe organ with over 10,000 pipes. The “Garden Walk” is always ablaze with annual flowers. Each plant has a sign to identify it.
There is a palm house very similar to the Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati, where birds flit between tropical plants and banana trees to the sound of a burbling brook. Longwood’s bonsai collection includes specimens over 100 years old. There is a large Mediterranean garden featuring plants preferring moist, cool winters, hot dry summers, and high light levels.
The “Silver Garden” displays gray and silver-foliaged plants adapted to dry, arid landscapes. The meandering aisle resembles a dry streambed surrounded by rock outcroppings covered with succulents and cactus. Behind it there’s a narrow passage named for the small cinnamon trees, covered with fluffy yellow flower clusters, arching over the walkway. Huge Christmas cactus plants hang overhead.
The Orchid House showcases hundreds of fragrant plants in full bloom, rotated from Longwood’s collection of more than 3,200 different types of orchids. Next door is the Banana House with twenty varieties, as tall as 32 feet, and then the Tropical Terrace, with dangling 20-foot-long roots of princess-vine suspended from the ceiling. Among familiar house plants hangs a huge rabbit’s-foot fern, planted in 1953 and weighing approximately 500 pounds.
The fruit house has decades-old orchard trees trained on sturdy wire mesh. The du Pont family had a year-round supply of ripe fruit from this house, including grapes, nectarines, figs and lemons. I covet the greenhouses, with their “cost-no-object” bronze fittings and spotless aluminum plant benches. The potting room is a tidy and well-organized facility where staff and volunteers prepare displays for the next season.
The Rose House, with hundreds of roses in full bloom, is spotlessly clean of leaves and petals. The Cascade Garden has water splashing into clear pools and lush, richly-textured plants clinging to the walls. The Fern Passage is a cool, green passageway lined with exotic ferns and bromeliads, leading to a collection of insect-catchers like Venus flytraps and pitcher plants. The newest permanent feature at the Conservatory is a lush “green wall”, surrounded by a grassy amphitheater. You could wander all day in the conservatory, but hundreds of acres of gardens beckon outside. Wear comfortable shoes…
There are several excellent eateries on site; the Café and Beer Garden have excellent, reasonably priced lunch and dinner. If you enjoy fine dining, you’ll want to linger over an elegant meal in the gracious 1906 restaurant.
It’s fun to fantasize what kind of gardens we could have if we were as rich as the du Ponts. Longwood’s stunning high-ceilinged greenhouses and graceful architecture make a perfect backdrop for
thousands of flowering plants in peak condition, year in and year out. It’s hard to leave the beautiful grounds, with ancient trees, topiary, reflecting pools, immaculate vegetable and herb gardens.
The Bruce Munro lighting display is scheduled for July through October of 2022. Tickets go on sale starting March 30th. For a preview video, see Longwood’s website at https://longwoodgardens.org/light-installations-bruce-munro. There’s a gallery of the previous Munro exhibit, the one we saw, at https://www.archdaily.com/243559/bruce-munros-stunning-led-installations-light-up-longwood-gardens/
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.