Meadow views and fantasy treehouses at Longwood Gardens


Contrasting with the many formal and traditional gardens at Longwood Gardens (a Philadelphia-area estate garden I visited earlier this month), the 2-year-old Meadow Garden presents an appearance of wild nature. The meadow’s 86 rolling acres of native grasses, perennials, and wildflowers come into view from a shady woodland path, offering a surprising openness and long views — not to mention 3 miles of walking trails — that beg for exploration.


From a distance it’s a blanket of green, but up close you enjoy flowering penstemon…


…daisies…


…and thistles.


I egged on my friend Diana/Sharing Nature’s Garden for an extended hike through the sunny meadow to the restored Webb Farmhouse. Built in the early 1700s by William Webb, who farmed this land, the house and its acreage were eventually purchased by Longwood’s founder, Pierre S. du Pont, to preserve views and trees.


A staff member we encountered along the trail told us that horticulture students were housed here before the restoration, when it was in much more primitive shape. Today, one of the downstairs rooms is decorated to look as it might have in the 1700s — with the addition of electric lighting and air conditioning.


The other room is an educational gallery space that includes this cool metalwork spiderweb in one of the windows. A web for the Webb Farmhouse! We spent at least an hour traversing the meadow trails, which I really enjoyed.


As we left the meadow, we paused on a bridge over Hourglass Pond and spotted a swimming snake, a sign of a healthy ecosystem.


Moving on, we came to a grove of pines, with straight black trunks softened by cloud-like greenery.


…and with a little creek running through.


Weirs along the creek slow the flow.


These pretty pink flowers appear to like wet feet.


Scattered throughout the grounds, three fabulous “treehouses” (they’re actually freestanding, not attached to surrounding trees) offer exploratory and make-believe fun for kids and kids at heart. The Canopy Cathedral, grandest of the three, stands 3 stories high and was built to resemble a Norwegian church.


On the way up the stairs, you encounter a couple of carved dragons, including this one with a rather bored expression. Diana looks a lot happier to be there.


Inside — wow, I could almost imagine living here.


A large diamond-paned window allows an expansive view.


We almost didn’t get to visit this treehouse, as the windstorm that tore through the region the day before had knocked over a gigantic tree that luckily missed the treehouse. A crew was chainsawing it into pieces throughout the morning and noontime hours, but by the afternoon they’d hauled it away and the area was reopened to visitors.


Smaller but higher, The Birdhouse puts you in the tree canopy. Binoculars and bird-watching guides stashed on the upper deck and inside suggest the perfect way to spend your time up there.


Lookout Loft is accessed via a long ramp, making it accessible to anyone with mobility issues.


Its open design and deck-like spaces appealed to me. I think a kid could really use her imagination in this one, and there’s plenty of room to run about. Trees grow through the central roofed portion, and flower-like metal “horns” project a visitor’s squawks and other vocalizations into the woods. Bird calls, anyone?


On the ground below, an old fallen tree has been transformed into a long bench with cut-out seats. It reminded me of a Lincoln Log toy.


I’ll end my coverage of Longwood Gardens among the majestic trees of Peirce’s Park. As the garden’s website explains, “During the 1800s, twins Joshua and Samuel Peirce collected many native and exotic trees, which they planted in straight rows on this land east of their farmhouse….Mr. du Pont purchased the Peirce farm and arboretum in 1906 to save the trees from being cut for lumber.” Good for all three tree lovers!

I strolled among the centuries-old trees with a feeling of reverence — and a wary eye for windblown branches, after our previous-day’s adventure at Winterthur.

Longwood is a big garden with something for everyone, and with attractions designed to draw people in droves, like the indoor children’s garden, a beer garden, and a musical fountain show. But quieter moments can be had here too, as I hope today’s post has shown.

Up Next: My return to Chanticleer and its famous Teacup Garden. For a look back at Longwood’s conservatory and indoor children’s garden, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Rambler roses and dancing water: Formal gardens at Longwood Gardens


Classically formal gardens aren’t my favorite style of garden, and that’s doubly true if roses are involved (they so often look leggy and lonely unsoftened by companion plants). But Longwood Gardens, a Philadelphia-area estate garden I visited with Diana/Sharing Nature’s Garden earlier this month, surprised me on this score. While the 300-acre garden includes plenty of naturalistic gardens, and even a wild (managed) meadow, not to mention a massive conservatory (pics coming soon), two of its formal spaces particularly delighted me.


First, the Rose Arbor, a wide circle of arches smothered in happy pink rambler roses (Rosa ‘American Pillar’).


We were lucky to catch the roses in their early summer glory. I read on Longwood’s Instagram that they begin to fade by July.


What the rambler rose lacks in fragrance, it makes up for in profuse flowering.


Against deep-green leaves and a blazing blue sky, the roses blush rosy-pink tempered by sparkling white centers.


Benches and a low wall around the rose circle offer plentiful seating for those wishing to immerse themselves in the splendor.


In the center of the patio, a fine display of potted dryland plants, including silver-blue agaves and Bismarck palms, make a cool, spiky focal point.


I love the frothy ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia planted under the agaves. I wonder if this pairing would work under our Death Star. ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia prefers mid- to late-afternoon shade in my Austin garden. However, it seems a great combo for cooler-summer climates.


It looks lovely with aloes too.


And palms (in the background). I believe that’s Agave macroacantha in front, with gorgeous dark teeth and spines.


In keeping with the cool color scheme, the pots are all gray and white, and some have lovely bas-relief designs. Variegated St. Augustine grass, a yellow-striped variety of the common Southern lawn grass, which has found surprising popularity as a container plant, spills from a pot in the foreground.


Another formal space that I really liked at Longwood is the Italian Water Garden. Six hundred jets spray water into towers, arches, and bubblers in a changing display that proved as mesmerizing on a warm summer’s day as a flickering fire on a cold winter’s night.


Pierre du Pont, Longwood’s founder and cousin to Winterthur‘s Henry Francis du Pont, constructed the water garden from 1925 to 1927, inspired by a similar garden at Villa Gamberaia near Florence, Italy.


You can view the fountains on three sides. The side views are from shady woodland paths, and the long view is from an elevated terrace (seen in the distance).


Frogs set in the lawn spit jets of water into the farthest pool.


I read that du Pont was concerned with perspective views and made the two most-distant corner pools 14 feet longer than the closer pools to trick the eye into seeing them all as the same size. You notice it when you walk along the side paths, of course, but from here, the pools look identically sized.


A goat head urn finial along the balustrade


Wait, is this the same couple I photographed sitting in the Rose Arbor? Yes, it is! They certainly know how to find picturesque seating.


Opposite the Water Garden, a pond offers a more naturalistic water view.


We also enjoyed the shade and structure of the Wisteria Garden and mused on what it must be like to experience it in spring bloom. It must be something to see — and smell.


We also missed the flowering of the tree peonies and Siberian irises of the Peony Garden, but the formal structure and sundial focal point make a pleasant view, even dressed in shades of green.


The formal Flower Garden Walk, one of the earliest and most iconic gardens at Longwood, didn’t move me, although perhaps it would in a different season. At this time of year, the plantings looked somewhat sparse. I suspect our visit coincided with recent removal of spring-flowering annuals and re-planting with summer annuals that have yet to fill in. Which is why you always want to revisit a garden in different seasons, if you can manage it.


The Peirce-du Pont House was built in 1730 (!) by Joshua Peirce and “enlarged over the years by successive generations of Peirces and later by Mr. du Pont, who purchased the property in 1906 and used it as his summer home,” according to Longwood’s website. If I were to live in one, I much prefer this house, with its deep porches and welcoming scale, to the king-sized mansion — also “just” a summer home — at Winterthur.


A big pink rhododendron was in bloom near the house, and buzzing with bumblebees.


On low walls here and there, pots of carnation-pink pelargonium…


…and olive-green succulents add color and texture.


The ultimate symbol of formal gardening is topiary, and Longwood’s Topiary Garden is one of the first areas we saw. While nicely maintained, the clipped shrubs seemed a bit random, lacking context and symmetry within the larger garden. Perhaps this will be remedied once the Main Fountain Garden next door, which is undergoing renovation (notice the black construction fencing in the background), is complete.


This massive construction scene was humming with activity. The original Main Fountain Garden, a grand water garden on a scale I’ve never seen, was built by du Pont in 1931 to entertain his many guests. Since 2014 it’s been closed for renovation, and while I was sorry to miss the spectacle of the fountains, I was duly impressed by the signage showing what it will look like when complete in the summer of 2017. I hope I’ll be able to revisit one day to see it.


Leaving the formal spaces behind, in my next post I’ll show you the extravagantly scaled conservatory, including a surprising indoor children’s garden focused on whimsical water play. As a segue, enjoy the ebony-and-ivory display of a magnificent copper beech and a dogwood in flower…


…and a virtual lunch al fresco at the cafe.

Up Next: Longwood’s enormous conservatory and water-play-friendly children’s garden. For a look back at nursery and home-and-garden shop Terrain, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Enchanted Woods children’s garden at Winterthur: Not your typical playground


Forget wooden playscapes, jungle gyms, and climbing walls. The most magical children’s gardens consist of natural spaces that invite exploration, slowly reveal secret spaces, and encourage imaginative play. Such is Enchanted Woods, the children’s garden at Winterthur, located in Winterthur, Delaware, which I visited with Diana/Sharing Nature’s Garden last week.


Enchanted Woods is a 3-acre exploratory play space for children and adults, set amid a grove of old oaks where the du Pont children used to play. I entered through standing stones that reminded me of Celtic ruins.


Arranged in wide circles under the trees, standing stones and bench-like architectural relics evoke Stonehenge and are perfect for climbing on or climbing through.


The stone artifacts, according to designer W. Gary Smith, were collected by the estate’s owner, Henry Francis du Pont. They sat in storage for decades before finding a home in the children’s garden when it was constructed in 2001.


Near the stones, a labyrinth spiraling in green grass invited me to make a contemplative stroll.


Concrete pavers etched with phrases from a Navajo “walking song” lead you into the heart of the labyrinth and then back out. As you walk it you read: “In beauty…”


“…may I walk”


“With beauty before me”


“With beauty behind me”


“With beauty above me”


“With beauty all around me…”


“…may I walk.” Isn’t that beautiful?


Other pavers are etched with plant illustrations, like heartsease (wild pansy)…


…and clover.


Nearby, a frog spits water into a small pool…


…and a giant bird’s nest (just like the ones at the Wildflower Center’s Family Garden), complete with carved wooden eggs, makes an intimate play space or hiding place.


The centerpiece of the garden is a stone-walled, thatch-roofed faerie cottage. Tucked among the trees, it has a fairy-tale appearance. (This is where Diana and I took shelter from the windstorm.)


A niche holds a sweet little pot of caladiums.


Inside, a faerie queen and king could live in style, with an acorn-adorned “throw rug” of colored pavers, an oak-tree window, throne-like chairs…


…cozy lighting, and a fireplace.


A green man adorns the wall.


Where the faerie king and queen sit?


Charming architectural details are built into the exterior too, like this curved bench.


A maypole lawn surrounded by swinging benches and spring-flowering trees makes a welcome green glade amid the tall oaks.


Encircled by old columns, a small table and chairs would be the perfect place for a tea party.


Other elements are a little more ambiguous, even eerie? An upturned tree stump seems to scuttle through the garden like Thing in The Addams Family.


Across a stone bridge, a pointy-roofed structure appears. Dubbed the Tulip Tree House, it’s cleverly made from a hollow tulip-poplar trunk.


Doesn’t it look like it could be a witch’s house in a fairy tale?


But less so with Diana’s smiling face looking out.


A circle of chair-sized mushrooms looks like a good place to take a rest.


Uh-oh — it’s a fairy ring. What happens if you step into it? A sign warns you not to, therefore making it irresistible that you will.


Mist suddenly hisses out of the mushrooms, threatening to swallow you up!


Hidden in the middle of tall shrubs, a green man laughs, his smile glinting with recent rain.


You know a garden is truly magical when a chipmunk poses for you, holding still as you creep in for a closeup. I loved Enchanted Woods, and while no children were there during our visit, I did see a grown-up couple exploring it like children (as did we). If you’re ever there sans kids, don’t be shy about playing pretend yourself.

For a look back at my post about Winterthur’s main gardens, click here. Up next: Shopping and dinner at Terrain, a gorgeous nursery/home-and-garden shop and restaurant in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Follow