For many gardeners living in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast, a trip to Longwood Gardens in Southeastern Pennsylvania is a yearly pilgrimage – a chance to recharge their batteries with inspiring ideas or increase their knowledge base with up-to-the-minute design. It’s a garden that champions the American meadow and elevates the humble vegetable patch, but can also astound the visitor with outstandingly luxurious displays and visions of Old World opulence.
It’s a garden for gardeners.
It’s a garden for academics.
It’s even a garden for those dragged there by either of the above!
It’s Longwood Gardens, and it’s hard not to feel a little different when you leave.
Saving Trees: The Beginnings of Longwood Gardens
Longwood Gardens began as an arboretum in the early 19th century, the work of Samuel and Joshua Peirce, whose family had owned the property for 100 years. In the early part of the 20th century, American entrepreneur Pierre DuPont rescued the arboretum from timber cutters and began to create the lavish pleasure gardens that span more than 1000 acres today.
Due to the vast size of the property, Longwood excels in seamlessly connecting disparate garden styles through ‘palate-cleansing’ walks that boast rare specimens of trees and shrubs.
Visitors can stand entranced by an Italian water garden – perfect in every detail – and then walk a few hundred meters across a catfish pond only to find themselves at the beginning of an 85 acre meadow.
The scale of Longwood will have you gasping, but it’s the plants that will make you smile.
Trilliums in the woodland, thousands of tulips underplanted with forget-me-nots, winterberries ripening against yellow-twigged dogwood – Longwood is a garden for all seasons. And that includes winter – Longwood’s holiday displays are legendary.
Are you inspired by naturalistic design and the simply beauty in open spaces? Turn right and you’ll still be spoiled for choice. Paths will lead you to the breathtaking and newly created Meadow Garden through Peirce’s Woods, or you can choose to go by way of an exquisitely manicured Flower Walk leading to a large lake and Italian Water Gardens. Either path will take you past full-size tree houses that began as year-long displays but were so beloved by visitors it was decided to keep them.
Whichever route you decide to take at the beginning of your journey, make sure you leave a couple hours to thoroughly wander the four and a half acre Conservatory.
Longwood Gardens goes big when it comes to indoor displays and with twenty themed indoor rooms there is something here for everyone – the Mediterranean lover, the Camellia enthusiast, the Orchid-hound, not to mention the tired grumpy child who changes his whole attitude when he finds that the Indoor Children’s Garden includes a dark grotto with bronze dragons and enchanted fog.
Nowhere is it as exciting to use the restroom. In an east end corner of the Conservatory, you will find them: modern, spacious and lined up along North America’s largest green wall – 300 feet long and 14 feet high. If you’ve never wished to hang out near restrooms on purpose, allow Longwood to change your mind.
Longwood Garden's Horticulture Classes and More
Longwood’s mission is to inspire and to educate. Classrooms and a world-class library allow horticulturalists and amateur gardeners alike to build upon their knowledge base with two-year certification programs or short courses. It’s a garden that takes its mission seriously, moving forward with advances in sustainable gardening practices whilst maintaining and improving Old World charm.
Longwood has over ten different educational programs, including grade school, high school, college-level, international and online gardening courses.
That’s the beauty of Longwood Gardens. It’s the perfect pairing of natural and man-made, formal and informal, academic and pleasurable – all with a focused view to making the visitor’s time here unforgettable.
Marianne Willburn is a columnist, blogger and author of the new book "Big Dreams, Small Garden: Creating Something Extraordinary in Your Ordinary Space." Originally from California, she now gardens in Virginia – read more at smalltowngardener.com