No doubt worthy of a” Top Ten Most Beautiful Gardens in America” designation, here in Southeastern Pennsylvania we have the lucky privilege of being within easy shot of Longwood Gardens. Thirty miles from Philadelphia and 40 miles from Lancaster, it is well worth the trip if you have not yet been. Whether you have an interest in horticulture, or just appreciate a stroll in the beautiful outdoors, everyone will appreciate the magnificence of this 1000+ acre slice of heaven. While I personally prefer it as a romantic date destination, even young children will have plenty to do with the addition of a children’s garden.
An early colonial farm, later descendents took an interest in botany and collected specimens as they traveled, turning 15 acres in the Brandywine Valley into an unofficial arboretum. Eventually the property became run down and neglected and was under threat from a logging business. Fortunately in the early 1900’s, Pierre S. DuPont who was an entrepreneur and philanthropist from a prominent family, took an interest in the land and bought it, thereby saving the trees from destruction. Not originally planning Longwood Gardens, DuPont slowly developed the property over time eventually holding social functions on the grounds. By his death in 1954, Longwood was established as a well-known horticultural display and has grown into a major attraction in the outer suburbs of Philadelphia.
Today, the gardens offer nearly year-round appeal and with each season comes a fresh interpretation of the works of master horticulturists. In fact, Longwood serves as a training ground for students of horticulture offering various workshops and internships. Even children in K-8 have an opportunity to get outside and learn about nature through summer day camps.
After parking in the spacious (free) lot, you enter through the visitor’s center, also spacious and attractive. Here you can grab a map and any other information you may need as well as have a chance to use the restrooms. After paying admission, you exit the back and begin the walking trail. You are free to roam at will, in any direction, but they encourage you to stay on the paved/grass paths so as not to trample any displays. We have always attended at the end of April through May, so the tulips are in bloom and it looks like something out of Holland, an absolutely splendid show of color. Continue on through Pierce’s Woods where the romantic soft hues of spring-blooming ground cover fill in the gaps between trees. Check out the paths lined with brilliant azalea bushes on your way to the Italian Water Gardens. Inspired by the fountains he saw on his tours of Italy, DuPont recreated a serene, symmetrical water garden right here at Longwood and on the other side of the path is a large lake, further adding to the appeal of this waterfront view.
As you continue to walk, there are eye-catching blooms everywhere you look. Hidden amongst the flowers, delightful statuary adds to the experience. For history lovers, there is the opportunity to tour the home of DuPont and learn more about the man whose imagination and ingenuity laid the groundwork for all that is Longwood Gardens. Kids will especially love the “Lookout Loft Treehouse” and the spiral staircase of an old lookout tower. Later on there is a sweet indoor children’s garden with cute little activities for them to explore. Along with the myriad of outdoor floral displays there are several indoor greenhouses which combine architectural beauty with nature. Everything from orchids to roses to bonsai to a desert re-creation, there is simply too much to put into words. Another favorite of mine is the ornamental shrubs trimmed into geometric and animal shapes.
If all that walking makes you hungry, grab a bite to eat at the Terrace Café, great for casual dining that is family-friendly. Watch out for the tourist-trap prices though. If you really want to splurge on a fine dining experience, maybe for a romantic dinner with your spouse, the 1906 Fine Dining Room is the place to go.
However, perhaps the most stunning and awe-inspiring feature of Longwood Gardens is about to get a lot better, in fact $90 million better. Yes, after two years of restoration, the premiere of the Main Fountains will occur on May 27, 2017. DuPont was always fascinated by the harmony of water and cultivated gardens, and in 1931 he undertook his largest project recreating water fountains he observed in Versailles. Reading about the restoration, it sounds mind-blowing! A mixture of lights, sound, fire (!) and true artistry with water, the main fountains will absolutely be the centerpiece of the gardens. Spots that were once off-limits to visitors will once again be opened so you can walk amongst the fountains, ensconced in greenery. Even if you have been to Longwood Gardens many times, this will be worth coming back for
Despite the fact there are no flashy screens or exhilarating roller coaster rides, this destination keeps people coming back year after year by the bus load, so many the tickets have to be timed. With just a little nurture and organization from man, God’s glorious creation stands on its own.
Admission: $23/adult, $20/seniors and college students, $12/children 5-18, FREE/children 4 and under (different prices set for Christmas lights)
Hours: Garden hours 9AM-6PM, Café 10AM-5PM, Fine Dining Room 11:30AM-3:30PM (only until May 27, then check website for updated hours)
1001 Longwood Road
Kennett Square, PA 19348
Check out www.longwoodgardens.org for the latest!