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

Those who play in glass houses: Conservatory and Indoor Children’s Garden at Longwood Gardens


Maybe Southerners don’t need conservatories because our winters are pretty green. Growing up in the South, I don’t recall ever visiting a conservatory until I started garden traveling to northern states. (We don’t have a culture of spring garden shows either, perhaps for the same reason.) Call me a conservatory philistine, then, but I have just never developed an appreciation for looking at gardens that are indoors. I always have a vague feeling of being in a mall. Plants should be outside!


Aechmea ‘Blue Tango’

This notion is rubbish to my friend and traveling companion Diana/Sharing Nature’s Garden (not a native Southerner, mind you), who joined me in visiting Longwood Gardens, near Philadelphia, earlier this month. She loves conservatories, and so Longwood’s cathedral-sized glass house was our first stop.


Jaw-droppingly vast, the conservatory was constructed in 1919 by Longwood founder Pierre S. du Pont (Longwood was his summer home) and been expanded over the years to its current 4-1/2 acres (!) of gardens under glass.


Conservatories are all about tropicals, of course — plants that can’t be grown outdoors in cooler climates — but for us Texans, sago palms are regular landscaping plants.


Bamboo too, although this black bamboo is particularly nice, and I like how the hanging lanterns add a little Far East flavor.


I also admired the bonsai collection, which is nicely displayed against black-framed, translucent screens, with labels on some that date the beginning of each plant’s training. I’m always amazed to see trees miniaturized into tabletop potted plants. Here, for exampled, is a pomegranate, an ornamental tree that I grow in my own garden, and look — even the blossoms look tiny-sized. How do they do that? Does it set doll-sized fruit, I wonder?


Japanese black pine, whose training began in 1949 — 67 years ago!


A fairy-sized forest is created with a grouping of loose-flower hornbeams, mosses, and tiny ferns.


A bald cypress, whose majestic dimensions are somehow recreated on a miniature scale. It all looks perfectly in scale, even the bark, but magically made small. I really want to know how this is done.


Aechmea mulfordii ‘Malva’

Moving on, there were many other wonderful plants on display throughout the 20 indoor gardens of the conservatory.


But I confess, all I could think about was getting outside to enjoy the wonderfully brisk temps (in the 50s!) of a Pennsylvania summer morning, not walk around indoors in a humid 70-something degrees.


No doubt I would appreciate it more if I could visit in the winter, when all else is sleeping under snow.


But here’s something unusual in a grand conservatory — a children’s garden! As a half-dozen tots in strollers, pushed by their mothers, converged on the area, my interest was piqued. What a surprise to discover a beautifully designed indoor play area, with at least a dozen fountains and water features that encourage interactive play.


Bronze and cast-stone animals spit, drool, and spout water in hidden nooks throughout winding, narrow pathways that encourage children’s exploration.


Little ones and adults alike delight in spouting lizards…


…a bird family in a nest…


…a pair of ibis…


…and a pelican gobbling up fish.


Grand fountain rooms…


…with interesting tilework…


…contrast with subterranean-seeming niches accessible only to children or adults who stoop, like this seascape-themed tunnel with mosaic fish.


This one, tucked under a curving staircase, elicited a happy shriek from one little boy who darted in. A trio of fanged snakes coils along the ceiling, over a smoking pool of dry ice.


Scary fun


Another nook includes a stained glass window, with a couple of small chairs and and baskets of books to curl up with.


The secret heart of the garden is the Drooling Dragon fountain, with a red-lit roaring mouth and a crown of asparagus fern.


You know you’re getting close when you spot this slinking, scaly dragon stair rail.


A phoenix and viper locked in epic battle adorn a low window grate.


And steampunk-esque metal bugs rest on a wooden door. I was charmed by the indoor children’s garden and imagine it’s hugely popular with local families.

Up Next: A trio of top-notch treehouses, plus a native-plant meadow at Longwood Gardens. For a look back at the Rose Arbor, Italian Water Garden, and other formal spaces at Longwood, 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.

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