QBARS - v16n2 Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens
Mary Plunket

"A garden is a piece of ground for the cultivation of herbs, fruits, flowers or vegetables - a rich, well-cultivated tract of country - an enclosure for displaying to the public, selected plant life -" Webster.

Surely, Longwood Gardens near Kennett Square, embodies all of these characteristics and more. Its fine 'tract of 1000 country acres' and 3½ acres of glass "enclosure" have been adequately endowed by its former owner, Pierre S. DuPont (1870-1954) to be governed by a Board of Trustees under the Longwood Foundation, Inc., for the sole purpose of being perpetuated for the benefit, enjoyment and education of the public. Longwood Gardens is open every day of the year, free of admission charge.

The original Longwood, known as "The Evergreen Glade" (an area of about 200 acres) was given by grant from Wm. Penn to George Peirce in 1701. Later, the Peirce brothers, botanists, built their home here in 1730 of bricks brought from England. In 1800, they developed one of several arboreta established in the Philadelphia area. Many of the gigantic, old trees still exist. It was about this time that the name changed to "Peirce Park."

Until its sale to P. S. DuPont in 1906, Peirce Park was understood to have been the only farm in Chester County which had been occupied uninterruptedly to that date by its first settlers and their descendants. At the time of this purchase, the new owner changed the name to "Longwood," a name chosen because of the 'long wood' adjoining the property.

The hospitality of the Peirce's was renowned. The latch string was always open to visitors. Perhaps this legend was the prompting factor in Mr. DuPont's mind in his desire to continue the friendly custom by sharing the beauties of his estate with the public.

From the time of purchase by P. S. DuPont, expansion and development began and because of his forethought and generosity, development and improvement still continue.

In the conservatories can be found many exotic tropical species as well as a multitude of colorful, interesting varieties of flora from all parts of the world to appeal to the botanist, the artist, the home gardener and the visitor who just "plain loves flowers."

As you wander through the conservatories on a Sunday afternoon, background organ music from the world-famous organ, one of the most complete organs in the country, having 10,010 pipes, can be heard wafting its strains through the air as though coming from an ethereal source. For those wishing to "leave it all behind," a stroll through the outdoor gardens offers a serenity of beauty never to be forgotten.

The meticulously cared for expanses of beautiful, green lawns, the majestic trees, the magnificent fountains (which can be seen illuminated in color on certain scheduled evenings) and the gentle resonance of the melodic chimes emanating from the Longwood Chimes Tower serenading the ½ million visitors yearly, seem to combine in an unspoken prayer of tribute to the philanthropist who made these gardens possible.

On a summer's evening, one can attend a performance at the scenic Open Air Theater. The stage wings are of clipped arbor vitae. Its underground dressing rooms are complete in all details from the stars' dressing rooms to those accommodating dozens of thespians. The water "curtain" on the stage is an exciting surprise to experience.

Performances at the theater are sponsored by carefully selected nonprofit organizations whose sole aims are toward charitable purposes. Programs ranging from the carefree, gay lilt of a Gilbert Sullivan Operetta to the thrilling tones of the "National Anthem" by the U.S. Marine Band have delighted vast audiences.

After each evening performance, there is a display of the spectacular, colored, electric fountains on the theater's 2 stage levels. The fountains are illuminated through plate glass windows from below with red, green, blue, yellow and white lights. When operating at full capacity, the pumps below stage deliver 2000 gallons of water per minute.

At the main electric fountain garden in front of the conservatories, during a half-hour evening performance, about 250,000 gallons of water are catapulted into the air at an average rate of 10,000 gallons per minute.

A touch of Europe is found in the outdoor attractions, for bordering the main fountain garden, a breath of France is represented in a flavor reminiscent of the Versailles Gardens.

At the extreme east end of the grounds can be seen the beautiful, sunken, Italian water garden, a replica of a water garden at the Villa Gamberaia near Florence, Italy. This garden was the finest addition to Longwood Gardens, its lay-out being done personally by Mr. DuPont.

New features such as Waterlily Pools, Topiary Garden, Rock Garden; educational features including Horticultural Short Courses, Horticultural Art Course, Horticultural Lectures and Organ Concerts and some of the older ones, namely, the Analemmatic Sundial, the Whispering Bench in the lower garden, the Cypress Knees in the upper lagoon and the Vegetable Garden, add to the variety of interests to be found here.

Experiments to determine plant value for ornamental display are carried on in the Experimental Greenhouse.

Longwood Gardens conservatory
Fig. 14.  Longwood Gardens azalea and rhododendron conservatory
Hampfter photo

Of the many plant specimens represented at Longwood Gardens, some of the foremost are azaleas and rhododendrons.

Among the newest additions to the Longwood collections are the Hirado Azaleas brought from Japan during the summer of 1961 by Dr. John L. Creech as a result of cooperative ornamental plant exploration and introduction carried on jointly by the USDA and Longwood Foundation, Inc. Other interesting rhododendrons include a collection of the epiphytic R. javanicum and jasminiflorum , representing cultivars from Kew Gardens as well as interesting hybrids of these developed at Longwood Gardens.

Of particular interest is the collection of tender azaleas and rhododendrons displayed in the "Azalea House" in April and early May. An especially spectacular white flowering specimen is R. (Indian hybrid) cv. 'Pierre DuPont.' (Fig. 13)

R. 'Pierre S. DuPont'
Fig. 13.  Indian hybrid R. 'Pierre S. DuPont',
named after the founder of Longwood Gardens
Hampfter photo

In recent years, the outdoor rhododendron collections have been substantially increased and represent many of the new improved hardy cultivars as well as the older favorites.

Longwood is always looking for new varieties of ornamental plants and some of the older ones not presently in its collection. Through a plant introduction program with the USDA, it has been able to import many specimens of value and interest to American horticulture.

Longwood Gardens is currently engaged in a construction program whereby a new entrance facility and Reception Center are in progress. The parking lot will accommodate 1000 cars and 30 buses. Completion of these latest additions is scheduled for spring of 1962.

One of the many functions of Longwood Gardens is to permit horticultural groups of regional and national scope to hold meetings and dinners in its elegant, crystal-chandeliered Ballroom and adjoining Lounge.

It is looking forward to the pleasure of welcoming the American Rhododendron Society for a portion of its annual meeting in this locality May 6-7, 1962.