Just a few months ago, Longwood Gardens was voted best botanical garden in USA Today’s Best Readers’ Choice Awards. No news to me. I’ve been captivated by legendary Longwood Gardens since I was a little girl!
And, I am far from alone. The manicured lawns, exquisitely clipped boxwood topiaries, meandering woodland paths and charming structures provide truly amazing garden inspiration to hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the globe each year.
I am incredibly fortunate that this world-renowned destination is a mere 20 minutes from my home. But, if you are visiting the Mid-Atlantic – from Maryland, to Delaware, DC, Pennsylvania, or Virginia – a side trip to Longwood Gardens is not to be missed.
Longwood Gardens is just one of the many cultural legacies left by the duPont family. In the early 1900’s Pierre S. duPont purchased what was known as The Peirce Farm to be used as a family retreat. He soon began creating gardens for his family to enjoy.
A businessman, philanthropist and amateur horticulturalist, DuPont set upon this project with great enthusiasm and “was greatly influenced by his frequent travels around the globe. He attended several world’s fairs and expositions, where he was astounded by grand architecture and the latest technology, including the huge display of water pumps at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and illuminated fountains at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago,” according to Longwood Gardens’ history.
That influence is immediately apparent in the Italian water gardens modeled after those at Versailles, as well a 4-acre glass enclosed conservatory reminiscent of England’s Sydenham Crystal Palace and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
What to see at Longwood Gardens?
There’s so much to see at Longwood Gardens, so allow several hours. And, start with the Flower Walk. This was duPont’s first installation and features seasonal flower displays with unusual seasonal blooms and often surprising pairings. For the gardener, it’s truly inspirational (and sometimes even attainable!).
Following the Flower Walk will lead to the Italian Water Gardens. While not the largest fountains at the venue, these are some of the loveliest. Nestled amongst woodlands, it’s a wonderful “surprise” moment after a trek through the forest and past the man-made pond.
Another must-stop is the manicured boxwood topiary gardens. If you’ve ever tried to trim a boxwood into even a simple square or sphere, you’ll truly appreciate the artistry of these massive topiaries. The whimsical shapes, such as the bird perched atop a massive boxwood, reflects the true artistry (and patience) of Longwood’s world-class horticulturalists.
Adjacent to the boxwood topiary gardens, the 80 year old, five acre Main Fountain Garden has recently undergone a $90 million restoration which was completed in 2017. It included the restoration of over 4,000 pieces of limestone decorative elements; enhanced pathways; an elaborate boxwood hedge and inviting alleés, as well as cutting-edge fountain technology. The Illuminated Fountain Performances offer a spectacle of light and color, set to music. Each 30 minute show has a unique musical theme (Solid Gold 70s, To Philly With Love, Monet’s Garden) and is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Past the Main Fountain Garden is the Eye of Water. And, it’s definitely worth the hike! If you have children, the stone tower looks exactly like something out of a fairytale. (In my family, this is lovingly referred to as “Rapunzel’s Castle.)
And, although the sprawling grounds are magnificent, I am most passionate about the breathtaking Conservatory. Contained within the 4.5 acre, glass-enclosed space are an ever-changing array of 4,600+ different types of plants and trees, fountains, manicured lawns, statuary, and a children’s garden, as well as fun-filled events throughout the year.
To learn more about this must-see Mid-Atlantic destination, click here to visit Longwood Gardens.
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