Archive for September 15th, 2010

Entrance to Longwood Gardens

When RailGuy and I travelled south on a short vacation last week, one of our destinations was Longwood Gardens. Longwood is located at the edge of the town of Kennett Square in southern Pennsylvania, about 40 miles west of Philadelphia. The gardens can be summed up in one word: WOW!

Espaliered trees at the entrance to Longwood Gardens

Even before you enter the grounds, there are interesting things, such as these espaliered trees, to see. Espalier is the horticultural practice of controlling woody plant growth by pruning branches so that they grow in relatively flat planes, often in formal patterns, against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis. In addition to being decorative, this practice may allow fruit trees to be grown in small gardens, and can extend the growing season a bit, as plants enjoy the warmth radiating from the wall overnight.

Longwood Gardens are the legacy of industrialist Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954). The land was originally purchased from William Penn by a Quaker family named Peirce in 1700. Joshua and Samuel Peirce planted an arboretum and by 1850 the site was known as one of the finest collections of trees in America. It became known as “Peirce’s Park”. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Dupont learned that the trees were to be sold for lumber and in 1906, he purchased the land to save the trees. The farm became a project that would engage him for the rest of his lifetime.

Trees are still an important feature of Longwood. The giant elm (Ulmus americanus), above, greets visitors as they leave the visitor centre and enter the gardens. It is the sole survivor of an avenue of elms, planted by Pierre du Pont, that succumbed to Dutch elm disease.


To the east of the visitor centre is a long, tranquil allée. It leads to the Canopy Cathedral, one of three tree houses. Its design was inspired by a Norwegian Stave church and it was constructed using lumber reclaimed from an old dairy barn, a warehouse and a toothpaste factory. The latter was located in Toronto! The house has its own foundation that was designed such that it would not intrude upon the roots and trunks of the trees.

Canopy Cathedral

The stairway is guarded by dragons.

Cathedral Dragon

The windows of the Cathedral offer a view over the Large Lake.

Large Lake

The serene lake is across from the Italian Water Garden, begun in 1925.

Italian Water Garden

The water garden was based on those found in France and Italy and du Pont chose the Villa Gamberaia near Florence, Italy as his inspiration. The Longwood water garden has more than 600 jets recirculating 4,500 gallons of water per minute in 18 pools.

Italian Water Garden features

It is designed such that from the observation platform, the four rectangular pools appear to be the same size. In fact, the two distant pools are 14 feet longer to correct for the viewer’s perspective. The pools were surfaced with blue Italian tile and the garden was completed in 1927.

Water Garden staircase waterfall

From the water garden, the path leads into Peirce’s Park. The woodlands were maintained and enlarged upon by du Pont and there are now a set of “rooms” such ast the Beech Grove and the Azalea Glen. I enjoyed the South Woods Edge, which features a stream flowing through a woodland garden. When we visited, both red and blue lobelia were in bloom.

South Woods Edge

The lobelia were being enjoyed by a host of swallowtails.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

At the edge of Peirce’s Woods, a fountain splashes musically.

Woodland fountain

From the fountain, you can follow the path to the Peirce-du Pont House, where I’ll end our tour for today. The front section of the house was built by the Peirce family. The brick farmhouse, built by Joshua Peirce in 1730, and shown below, replaced a log cabin built in 1709. Additions were completed in 1764 and 1824. In 1909, Pierre du Pont modernized the house with a two-story addition to the north and added plumbing, electricity and heating to the entire house.

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