Not all great gardens are located in Europe. One outstanding example can be found on America’s east coast, just a short, two-hour drive from Washington, DC. Covering 1,077 acres and boasting one of the world’s largest greenhouse structures, Longwood Gardens is a stunning garden paradise of majestic proportions and a level of design that is guaranteed to impress.
The classical stye gardens belong to a formal estate built in 1919 by the Pierre du Pont family. A focal point of the massive property is the Longwood Conservatory, an iron and stone building with vaulted glass windows that sits on a hilltop overlooking the gardens. Inside the palatial structure, lush green lawns fringed by seasonal flower beds are encircled by massive ivy-clad pillars. Over four and one-half acres of covered gardens are included in the display.
On view in the Longwood Gardens Conservatory through November 23 is the annual Chrysanthemum Festival, which showcases the Asian tradition of cultivating chrysanthemums into artistic shapes and forms. This year’s display features an astonishing 80,000 blooms that have been nurtured and trained into sculptures. Each gallery space exhibits different color combinations and design themes, making for a multi-layered experience as you stroll through the Conservatory.
The highlight of this year’s festival is the stunning Thousand Bloom Mum, a single potted plant with more than 1,500 blooms that have been trained into the form of a dome. It is the largest of its kind that has been grown outside of Asia. A pair of giant mum domes also flanks the entry to the Conservatory’s main Exhibition Hall.
It’s hard to grasp the sheer number of live chrysanthemum blooms that have gone into making the many artistic forms throughout the exhibit. There are ‘shields’ of pink, giant hanging balls of blue, yellow spirals in clay pots and an impressive 10’ hanging “chandelier” of red and yellow blooms, all fashioned from chrysanthemum plants, whose flowers have been trained into the many spectacular shapes. Purple mums wrap the majestic stone columns while thousands of other blooms cascade from the ceiling. Many other unusual cultivars can also be found tucked into seasonal flower beds that encircle the space.
Even at the end of fall, the Longwood Gardens’ outdoor gardens are resplendent in their bare simplicity, setting the property’s grand architecture to its best advantage. There are over 325 acres and 20 additional gardens to explore via winding paths through the adjacent woods and meadows.
The day we visited the staff was hard at work preparing the outdoors for the not-to-be-missed Christmas display for which Longwood Gardens is perhaps most famous. Still, there were soft yellow drifts of oak leaf hydrangeas and bottlebrush buckeyes coloring the landscape. A walk through the woods revealed dusty blue asters peaking from the dried leaves while overhead brilliant Japanese maples and the incomparable yellow leaves of the Ginkgo tree were on full display.