The Botanical Magic Behind Longwood Gardens 

by Meg Aprill
Festival of Fountains Longwood Gardens

Tucked away in the borough of Kennett Square, PA is the enchanting botanical wonderland known as Longwood Gardens. Behind the garden’s beautiful floral displays and alluring fountains is a rich agricultural history. It also makes the perfect day trip for New Jersey locals looking for an adventure!

Established in 1906, Longwood Gardens is made up of 1,100 acres — only about 400 of which are open to the public. According to Patricia Evans, the communications director at Longwood Gardens, there are more than 20 outdoor gardens on the property. These include formal gardens, meadows, woodlands, a grand 2-acre glass conservatory, and three fountain gardens. Evans says that Longwood is home to the most significant collection of fountains in North America. There is also a vast variety of plants grown at the gardens, with over 70 percent of the plants featured in their displays raised on site. Each year, Longwood Gardens produces about 100,000 plants of more than 1,000 different species. 

Acacia Passage

Main Conservatory at Longwood Gardens, Picture by Becca Mathias

Longwood Gardens welcomes visitors from far and wide to experience its magical botanical displays. There are more than 30 public gardens in the Philadelphia region, deeming it America’s Garden Capital and Longwood Gardens is lucky to be at the center of it. According to Evans, this timeless garden venue stands out among the rest. Evans says, “Our conservatory displays throughout the year are extraordinary and whether you are a gardener or not, you will appreciate the beauty and serenity of the gardens and leave inspired.”

Longwood’s Roots 

Before Longwood Gardens became the sophisticated exhibit it is known as today, it was simply a field-sculpted nature. For thousands of years, the native Lenni Lenape tribe fished, hunted and farmed on the wild fields. However, George Peirce, a Quaker farmer, bought the English-claimed land from William Penn in the 1700s. His family farmed there and built an arboretum and a brick farmhouse that still stands on the property today. Eventually, the Pierce family abandoned the land and the farm ended up in the hands of a garden enthusiast.

Farmhouse at Longwood Gardens

Farmhouse at Longwood Gardens, Picture by Larry Albee

Pierre du Pont, a Delaware native, bought the property in 1906. He adored nature’s beauty and his family’s love for gardening. After spending years traveling to magnificent gardens abroad, du Pont saw potential in this Pennsylvanian land he purchased. He named the property Longwood after the nearby Longwood Meeting House. “Longwood” is said to be from the local forest known as The Long Woods. 

Longwood Gardens’ botanical masterpiece started with du Pont’s first display in 1907 called the Flower Garden Walk. It features Longwood’s first fountain and remains one of the most popular garden displays today. In 1921, du Pont created the stunning glass conservatory, a year-round greenhouse using the latest agricultural technology. He also constructed a Water Garden of fountains on Longwood’s largest lake, an open-air theater for entertainment, and a Chimes tower, among other gardens and displays on the property. Du Pont introduced European-style art and design to his gardens by cultivating a variety of plants from all over the world. 

Summer Flowers

Summer Flowers at Longwood Garden, Picture by Larry Albee

The beauty of du Pont’s designs quickly caught the interest of the public. Longwood became home to summer garden parties, concerts and other large-scale events. While many generations helped build Longwood Gardens, du Pont’s contributions made the gardens into what it is today. 

The Captivating Seasonal Displays

Longwood Gardens has become a popular destination for garden lovers and tourists year-round. In fact, Longwood features garden displays and events for the winter, spring, summer, and autumn months, ranging from blooming festivals to light shows. 

Throughout the summer, Longwood Gardens hosts the Festival of Fountains. From now to Sept. 26, you can visit the Main Fountain Garden which has more than 1,700 jets of water reaching as high as 175 feet. Evans explains that on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, the gardens remain open for an illuminated fountain performance set to music in the Main Fountain Garden. “Guests also enjoy our Beer garden, where they can relax under the stars to live music before the fountain performance,” she says. The Festival of Fountains is a true summer highlight for Longwood Garden visitors. 

Festival of Fountains

Festival of Fountain, Picture by Becca Mathias

However, the most popular display at Longwood Gardens is A Longwood Christmas. The event runs from just before Thanksgiving to early January. Evans says, “We deck the halls like no place else.” They display more than 500,000 outdoor lights throughout the gardens, and a conservatory display featuring thousands of poinsettias, decorated trees, fire pits to warm up by and illuminated fountain shows set to holiday music. Evans says, “It is very much a holiday tradition for families throughout the region.” 

Planning a Visit to Longwood Gardens

Want to check out the Festival of Fountains and what’s in bloom at Longwood Gardens this summer? General admission for adults is $25 with various discounts for seniors (62+), college students, youth, and military. Directions to the address and contact information can be found on the Longwood Gardens website. 

According to Evans, she would tell guests to wear comfortable shoes for walking so that it is easy to explore all parts of the Gardens since there is so much to enjoy! The average visit to the Gardens is about three hours, so it is important to plan accordingly. Evans says, “The best advice is to buy your ticket online in advance of your visit so you are not disappointed as some time slots do sell out.”

A Friday at Longwood

A Friday at Longwood, Picture by Becca Mathias

Have you been to Longwood Gardens? Tell us about your visit in the comments. 

Featured image of the Main Fountain, taken by Eileen Tercha 

About the Author/s

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Meg is studying magazine journalism and civic engagement at Syracuse University with a passion for writing and editing. She is a Jersey girl at heart and has a slight obsession with Chai Tea Lattes.

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