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Down the Garden Path

A springtime getaway to Longwood Gardens

“I have recently experienced what I would formerly have diagnosed as an attack of insanity; that is, I have purchased a small farm.” So begins a letter penned by industrialist Pierre du Pont in 1906. “I expect to have a good deal of enjoyment in restoring its former condition and making it a place where I can entertain my friends.” What du Pont could not have known at that time is that this small farm, situated just outside Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, would undergo a much more substantial transformation and would become a botanical destination for countless visitors.

The plot of land, known now as Longwood Gardens, developed over time into one of the great horticultural displays of the world. With 1,077 acres of gardens, woodlands, and meadows, this Pennsylvanian gem has proved to be a retreat and source of creative motivation for many. “People come here to be inspired,” says Paul Redman, executive director of the gardens. “It makes them forget about all other things in their lives.”

What better place for a springtime getaway than somewhere exploding with outdoor inspiration? Longwood Gardens offers not only leisurely strolls through breathtaking blooms, but also exhibitions and horticulture education programs for long-time and beginner-level gardening enthusiasts alike. The Spring Blooms exhibition, an annual celebration of nature’s first joy-inducing flowers, begins April 4 and runs through Memorial Day weekend. This colorful event offers views of over 300,000 spring flowering bulbs.

A main highlight of the Spring Blooms event, and a personal favorite of Redman’s, is the Flower Garden Walk. Established in 1907, this was the first garden du Pont designed on his new land. The garden’s brick walk carries visitors through the space, surrounded by the majority of the exhibit’s 300,000 blooms, creating what Redman calls “a spectacular display of color and spring flowers.”

Longwood Gardens' first fountain, the Round Fountain, can be seen here, along with nostalgic cottage-garden blossoms, rose-covered trellises, elegant benches, and other traditional garden elements.
Another must-see element and one of Longwood Gardens’ newest features, the Meadow Garden consists of eighty-six acres of rolling hills and natural flora, making it Longwood’s largest individual garden. “This is a living, breathing Andrew Wyeth painting,” says Redman. “It’s quintessential Brandywine Valley.” Three miles of walking trails allow visitors to meander through the wildflowers and grasses, stopping at the Webb Farmhouse, a restored structure from the 1700s that now contains displays telling the story of du Pont and his gardens.

If you’re planning a visit during the mid- or late-summer months when the Meadow Garden’s wildflowers are at their peak, you’ll also have the opportunity to see the gardens in an entirely new way. Nightscape: A Light and Sound Experience, which runs from July 1 through October 31, will immerse visitors into a world of evening beauty. In this exhibit, Longwood Gardens’ historic trees, plants, and flowers will create a natural backdrop for moving images and light choreographed to musical scores. Be sure to stop by the Beer Garden to take a sip under the stars; Longwood’s signature brew by Victory Brewing Company will be made with the garden’s own flowers and herbs.

Of course, any time of year is ideal to visit Longwood Gardens, thanks to one of the largest conservatories in North America. “The conservatories use a magical combination of architecture and horticulture to create a unique environment,” explains Redman. Designed by some of the most famous landscape architects of the twenty-first century, these enclosed gardens give visitors the ability to experience gorgeous greenery even during the cold winter months. Boasting more than four acres of gardens under glass, these conservatories are filled with plants ranging from exotic palms to elegant orchids to intriguing carnivorous species.

So pick your season, mark a weekend, and head to du Pont’s Longwood Gardens, where inspiration is always in bloom.

If you go:

Longwood Gardens / 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square / www.longwoodgardens.org / 610-388-1000

Time:
Gardens regularly open 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Nightscape: A Light & Sound Experience hours extended into the evening Wednesday through Saturday from July 1 through October 31.

Tickets:
Adults $20, seniors (ages sixty-two and up) $17, students (ages five to eighteen or any age with a valid student ID) $10, children (ages four and under) free.
Tickets available online at tickets.longwoodgardens.org, in person in the Visitor Center, or by calling 610-388-1000.
*Special ticket required for Nightscape: A Light & Sound Experience

Recommended lodging:
The Inn at Montchanin Village & Spa, Wilmington, Delaware (www.montchanin.com)

Nearby attractions:
Brandywine River Museum of Art, Chadds Ford (www.brandywinemuseum.org)
Andrew Wyeth Studio, Chadds Ford (shuttle access via Brandywine River Museum of Art)
Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, Winterthur, Delaware (www.winterthur.org)

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