By Lauren Weinhold
Late-summer blooms and mild breezes greeted my mother and me as we walked the grounds of Longwood Gardens, the former estate of Pierre S. du Pont. Thirty miles west of Philadelphia, Longwood is tucked away from the surrounding metropolitan buzz. An easily accessible day trip destination from Baltimore, Washington, and Wilmington, there are 40 outdoor and indoor gardens with over a mile of walkways and paved paths. The original owners, the Peirce family, purchased the land directly from William Penn in the 18th century. However, the most significant horticultural advances and garden construction occurred after du Pont purchased the 1077-acre property in 1906.
Longwood blends natural “untouched” space with the well-manicured opulence of du Pont’s native France. The Italian Water Garden, employing revolutionary fountain technology from the time, flows right into a large sloping wildflower meadow and forested path. Nearby, the family residence is also available for viewing.
Du Pont’s passion for the arts is well preserved by Longwood’s programming staff, as they schedule numerous concerts, lectures, and shows throughout the year. The gardens themselves are designed to incorporate these activities into the natural landscape: a grassy hill with terraced seating serves as an amphitheater for the outdoor concerts. The Conservatory at the northeastern edge of the property includes original greenhouses from 1919 like the “Orangery” where citrus trees were grown, and newer greenhouses such as the Indoor Children’s Garden, built in 2007, where all ages can play in the animal-inspired copper fountains. The East Wing of the Conservatory houses the ballroom and gallery built specifically for du Pont’s symphonic organ. The 10,010 pipe organ has been under restoration since 2004, and a new concert series is scheduled to begin again in October. Make sure to see the winding “Green Wall” corridor in the East Wing of the Conservatory, the largest living wall in North America.
Even in the winter when most trees and flowers are dormant, Longwood hosts its extremely popular Christmas Show exhibit. Advance tickets are a must when that season kicks off on November 24. Until then, the Gardens is celebrating the season in its Autumn’s Colors exhibit, multiple concerts and flower shows, and the Chrysanthemum Festival in late October through the beginning of the holiday season.