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 Gardens’ 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.
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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.

Dogwood enchantment and a wild windstorm at Winterthur Gardens


The Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania has been calling my name since 2008, when I passed through during a family road trip and fell in love with the rolling, wooded countryside, its charming villages and Revolutionary War history, and numerous estate gardens that make it a garden traveler’s dream vacation. Last week my friend Diana/Sharing Nature’s Garden and I took a 6-day trip to the region, and we visited the three most-famous estate gardens, arriving at each one at opening and staying until closing.


We started with Winterthur (pronounced winter-tour), located in the town of the same name in Delaware. Because I’d heard that Winterthur’s big show is early to mid-spring, with bulbs, azaleas, and flowering trees, I expected mostly green vistas during our early June visit. But I was happily surprised by dogwoods in bridal-dress bloom throughout the gardens.


Visitors to Winterthur also enjoy majestic trees (including a nice pinetum), meadow vistas, winding woodland paths, a playful children’s garden, and intimate seating areas for relaxation or contemplation.


Formal design elements — like this circular lawn anchored by a massive old pine, with a low wall making a sort of council ring about the space — balance the wild-seeming woods and meadows that make up most of the 60-acre garden, which itself is part of a 1,000-acre preserve.


Ferns as far as the eye can see


We chose the outer paths first, hoping to see those before the rain arrived, which threatened from dark clouds. From the wooded seclusion of the pinetum, the garden opens into a formal boxwood and yew garden with a large armillary in the center. A meadow vista with a swoop-roofed pavilion beckoned in the distance.


I had to admire this massive wedge of golden foliage as we left the outer path and headed into the meadow. Toto, we’re not in Kansas Austin anymore.


Ahead, a vista of white-flowered beauty! Enormous dogwoods, frosted with layers of creamy white flowers, made an irresistible scene.


We walked on, exclaiming over each tree, walking among them with hands stretched to stroke the cascade of blossoms, stopping in the shade of their canopies and looking up at the starry white flowers.


It was beautiful, and while the dark clouds overhead gave us pause, we didn’t turn back, not even when we heard a single siren go off in the distance. One rising and falling wail, like a tornado warning back home — we looked around, saw plenty of blue sky along with the dark clouds, noticed no one else hurrying for shelter, and decided to quickly see the rest of the white garden before heading in.


Just one more turn among the dreamy white trees


And mock orange


And deutzia (I think)


The dogwoods’ white petals looked even prettier against the increasingly threatening sky.


Yes, it was really time to head for shelter.


We didn’t make it. We hurried out of the open meadow and plunged into a woodland garden — the Enchanted Woods children’s garden, as we later realized — and as soon as we were well under those towering old trees, rain began needling our faces. Worse, straight-line winds roared through the treetops above, thrashing the canopy with an alarming noise that made us fear a tornado was imminent. I popped out my umbrella to protect my camera, but instantly the wind yanked it inside-out.


The only thing to do was run for it. But we didn’t know exactly where we were, or how far away shelter was, and as we began to run, a giant tree limb crashed down and splintered on the path a dozen yards ahead. All around us was the noise of falling limbs and roaring wind. It was terrifying. We ran back the other direction, toward a small restroom we’d passed on the way into the woods, but I suddenly was convinced I wouldn’t make it there before a big branch fell on me. I darted toward a teak bench along the path, crouched beside it, and, ridiculously, lifted one end to shelter my head from falling branches.

Bless her heart, Diana, who was well ahead of me, turned back to find me — probably expecting to find me pinned under a tree — and found me squatting under a bench instead. She yanked me up, and we blindly ran a different way and found a stone hut in the Enchanted Woods. Dashing under its thatched roof, we collapsed, panting, on the floor. We were speechless.

A few minutes later we heard a truck and a voice shouting, “How many are you?” A staff member had driven her small pickup truck up the paved path by the hut. “Two,” we yelled, and ran back out in the storm to squeeze into her one remaining seat. Diana contorted herself so I could squeeze in underneath her. I was halfway in when a branch crashed down beside me, whacking me on the head and arm. I didn’t even look to see how big it was. I shoved myself in, slammed the door, and prayed that no tree would come down on us as we drove to the museum building. Thankfully, we made it. If the woman in the truck reads this, I want her to know how grateful I am that she risked the falling limbs to get us.

Breathless, we waited out the storm in the museum building, our hair dripping, me drying my camera with a scarf. When we’d recovered, we stayed inside for an hour to do the house tour. Later, out in the garden again, we saw downed limbs and even a big tree (above). We also saw downed trees on the drive home and at Longwood and Chanticleer in the days to come.

We soon had a semi-hysterical belly laugh over my bench hidey-hole. Diana wanted me to reenact it for a photo, but knowing it’s etched in both our memories is quite enough for me.


One thing is for sure: we didn’t ignore two other weather sirens that went off later that afternoon, taking immediate shelter both times, including in an old bath house with a curlicued gate.


Still, nothing can keep a garden lover down, and we thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the day. A little history: Winterthur was built by the du Pont family, who fled post-Revolutionary France, got rich in America making gunpowder, and founded the chemical company that bears the family name. Henry Francis du Pont, great-great-grandson of the French émigrés, studied horticulture in college and eventually made the estate’s gardens and his furniture and art collections his life’s work. He opened Winterthur to the public in 1951.


The gardens surrounding the mansion are adorned with classical statuary…


…but the gardens themselves range from naturalistic woodland…


…to formal reflecting pool.


Despite the storm, it was a beautiful day in the garden.


I’d love to see it again one day in early spring.


I was excited, too, to see my book for sale in the gift shop. Thanks for carrying it, Winterthur!


I’ll close with a Japanese maple I photographed in the morning, with the sun breaking through the clouds and lighting up the russet leaves.

Up next: Winterthur’s Enchanted Woods, a truly enchanting children’s garden designed by W. Gary Smith, who also created the family garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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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