Thursday, June 13, 2013

Afternoon Adventure: Longwood Gardens

A month ago my family met up in Philadelphia to celebrate my sister's graduation. We had some free time before the festivities began, so we drove about an hour outside of the city to the Brandywine Valley, former home of painter Andrew Wyeth and current location of some absolutely beautiful estates and gardens.

We spent the early afternoon at Longwood Gardens, a stunning estate with acres of gardens and a classic conservatory. Because it was Mother's Day, we had to navigate wandering crowds, but the whole place is so big that we hardly noticed most of the time.

Longwood began as a farm and arboretum built by the Peirce family, who purchased the property from William Penn way back in 1700. As Quakers, the Peirces respected the land and focused on planting and preserving native trees. By the time industrialist Pierre du Pont purchased the land from the Peirces in 1906, Longwood was already known for its collection of trees and aesthetic beauty.

But it was Pierre du Pont who slowly molded the property into what we see today. He used his immense fortune and his interest in conservation to develop the property, designing a range of gardens, building a gorgeous conservatory to house indoor plants, and installing of-the-moment fountains around the grounds. Inspired by the world's fairs he visited in his youth, he referenced the architecture and horticultural designs he saw at these fairs, making for an estate that is at once rooted in the past and forward-looking.

We could have spent all day at Longwood. Because we wanted to check out another estate (and eat lunch), we had to drag ourselves away after a few hours, but I definitely want to go back. We wandered through the fountain gardens, where my dad marveled at the 1930s-designed pumps.

I took a few too many pictures of utterly indulgent garden fixtures that I really, really want in my someday-garden, like follies and walls of sculpted fountains.

We spent a long time in the vegetable and fruit gardens, where I took copious notes on scenic fencing and supports for climbing vines. (And I crushed on rows of raspberry bushes.)

Horticultural Dome, Chicago World's Fair

Just before we left, we stopped in the conservatory, which reminded me of all those long-ago photographs of the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, with its huge hanging plants and light-filled rooms. (It also made me feel like I'd stepped into the steampunk world of Bioshock Infinite, which begins at an alternate version of the 1893 Exposition.)

Longwood is the perfect place to slow down and relax for a day if you're in the Philadelphia area. We left inspired and refreshed, and that's exactly what we needed on a busy graduation weekend.

Works cited: Longwood Gardens History. Paul V. Galvin Library, World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.


  1. I love the idea of your father marveling at century old pumps.

    And I always think the idea of the world's fair is romantic and fascinating.

    1. Really, neither one of us was surprised that he did. And I so wish there were still worlds' fairs to go to!

  2. There is a garden like this about an hour south of Atlanta, but I've never been. It's 90 degrees every day here, but in the fall, I will certainly have to visit. You've inspired me!

    1. Gardens are so worth the trip. I'd love to hear about it when you go!