Beauty born of destruction

Until about four months ago, I’d never heard of Longwood Gardens. A friend and former colleague, Lisa Panes, at the International Rice Research Institute (in the Philippines where I used to work) had posted some lovely photos on Facebook and I asked her where they were taken.

I then discovered that the gardens lay just a few miles to the east of a route I had already planned on our recent road trip between Atlantic City on the New Jersey coast and Gettysburg in central southern Pennsylvania, northwest of Wilmington, DE and almost due west of Philadelphia, PA. And that Longwood is one of the best rated gardens in the country!

Since both Steph and I (Steph in particular) enjoy visiting gardens of all sorts, we decided to make the small diversion and include Longwood in our itinerary. And what a worthwhile visit it was.

The park covers 1100 acres (interactive map), of which 400 are open to the public. And what can only be described as the biggest conservatory I have ever seen, covering 4 acres.

So what’s the origin of this beautiful place?

Longwood Gardens were created in 1906 by Pierre Samuel du Pont, scion of the industrial chemicals du Pont family, and great grandson of the company’s founder, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, who settled in America (from his native France) in 1800. The original purpose of the du Pont company was the manufacture of black powder explosives.

Eleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771-1834) on the left, and his great grandson Pierre Samuel (1870-1954) on the right.

The origins of Longwood trace back to an arboretum established by twins Joshua and Samuel Peirce.

After George Washington Peirce’s death the Park began to decline as was about to be acquired by a development company intent on cutting down the trees. That’s when Pierre Samuel stepped in to rescue the Peirce farm and Park, and to save the many magnificent trees. He set about realising his vision for the gardens and also remodelled the Peirce farmhouse on the property (now known as the Peirce-du Pont House).

The Flower Walk was the first part of the garden to be laid out.

Making our way back to the main entrance, we walked through the Flower Garden Walk. Although it was probably past its best in early September, there was nevertheless enough in bloom to appreciate just how magnificent it must look at the the height of summer.

But the Gardens’ pièce de résistance is the magnificent conservatory, the first parts of which were completed in the early 1920s and further sections added throughout the decade.

du Pont built a huge Fountain Garden in front of and facing the conservatory. What a display! du Pont built another water garden, the Italian Water Garden, to the east of the house which appears at the end of the video.

All in all, we had a lovely visit to Longwood Gardens, and I’m so grateful to my friend Lisa for putting the Gardens on my radar. If you are ever in this part of eastern Pennsylvania, please do make a beeline for Longwood. You won’t be disappointed. From what I can glean from the Gardens website, they are open all year round. I can imagine walking round the park with snow on the ground, and then experiencing the pleasure of a hot Conservatory afterwards.

I have posted a more extensive album of photos here.

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