The Brandywine River Valley serves as an epicenter for public gardens in the U.S. One of America’s finest is Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
Created by Pierre du Pont, these gardens are magnificent. More than 1,000 acres are available to explore, with more than 11,000 plants on display. In addition to the grand gardens, you can experience unique diverse landscapes such as meadows, woodlands, a large and small lake, and a farm.
Everywhere you go, there is something amazing to see. The Italian Water Garden is presented as a formal lawn with old world décor that reminds you of a Tuscan villa. Not far from there, kids and the young at heart will enjoy a walk up to the Canopy Cathedral treehouse. On the other side of the property sits a Topiary Garden with trees and shrubs professionally manicured into fun animal or geometric shapes.
There are a few buildings worth visiting at Longwood Gardens. The historic du Pont house is the oldest structure on the property, dating back to 1730 when it served as a homestead for Joshua Peirce. But the most impressive is the Conservatory, which is one of the largest greenhouses in the world. Dating to 1921, the neo-classical architecture stands out yet also seems to blend into the landscape. Inside, you will find the Orangery, Orchid Room and other spaces dedicated to tropical plants, flora and fauna. Be sure to check out the Organ Museum and the historic organ with more than 10,000 pipes.
The main attraction at Longwood Gardens has to be the fountains. There’s little to compare to their fountain show, except maybe the Bellagio’s in Las Vegas. During the day, Longwood’s water fountains put on a dance with some shooting as high as 175 feet. At night, through the last weekend in September, more than 1,700 jets of water are choreographed to lights and thematic music for a stunning performance that will leave you in awe as you leave the gardens.
Throughout the year, Longwood hosts a number of special events, including concerts, art installations and other activities.
Their Summer Concert Series brings in top-notch performers and many of them often sell out well in advance. You can also hear music played on the chimes tower, a carillon crafted in The Netherlands with 62 cast bells. Don’t miss “Light: Installations by Bruce Munro,” which is on view until October 30. The artist returns with a new exhibit featuring eight illuminated installations throughout the landscape and structures.
While visiting, there are plenty of food options. Restaurant 1906 offers visitors a full-service dining experience (reservations recommended) and is named for the year du Pont purchased the property. The menu includes fresh seasonal fare featuring locally sourced and sustainable ingredients whenever possible.
For a less formal or quick bite, there is also a café. Here you can grab a sandwich, salad or a hot entrée. You can also get the famous Longwood Gardens Mushroom Soup here. Finally, the Beer Garden provides an alfresco opportunity to enjoy selections from the Victory Brewing Company as well as some pub fare and homemade pizza. Live entertainment is offered seasonally on certain evenings as well.
Regardless of what time of year you visit Longwood Gardens, there is always something in bloom or something to see. And unlike many attractions, the gardens are open for extended hours throughout the year, providing something to do well into the evening hours.
by Shuan Butcher