The Orchid Tree at Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens
OK, so maybe you won’t be copying the orchid tree above, but this time of year Longwood Gardens is teeming with ideas, especially when it comes to Christmas trees. Located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (an easy two-hour drive from Washington, DC), Longwood is resplendent this December as it pays homage to France. And the eye-popping horticultural displays are nothing short of ooh-la-la.
This year’s show titled C’est Magnifique! is a tribute to founder Pierre S. du Pont and his original vision for the gardens. Inspired by his many travels abroad, Longwood’s talented staff have transformed the 4-acre Orangery into a magnificent French garden, complete with formal parterres, boxwood topiaries, living wreaths and a floor garden composed entirely of floating apples, walnuts and cranberries. Each display has been meticulously constructed using hand-made elements, traditional ornamentation and horticulture.
Floating parterre made of apples, cranberries and gilded walnuts
Still, I’m partial to the more than 50 Christmas trees that each year provide the focal points in the various rooms of this magnificent 1920s-era building. Adorned with a mix of ordinary and unusual plants along with shimmering ornaments, they never cease to astonish and excite. And this year’s exhibit is packed with great ideas, many of which can be easily replicated at home.
A view into Longwood Gardens’ East Conservatory
In our own homes, a Christmas tree often serves as a focal point. This is also true for Longwood’s East Conservatory, which serves as the main entry to the greenhouse. The highlight of the vaulted iron and glass space is a 25-foot white fir that acts as the centerpiece of the garden. Viewed from the entry along a vertical axis of flowing water, this year’s tree stands silhouetted between masses of seasonal blue, yellow and white flowers.
East Conservatory white fir viewed from main entry
East Conservatory main tree
In reality, the tree is so large it’s hard to photograph. (I opted for kneeling on the floor.) Flanked by mini gardens of ornament-shaped topiaries made from boxwood and moss, it is ringed by bright green ferns.
A close-up reveals the shimmering blue, gold and copper ornaments composed of balls, spirals and various horticultural elements. I love how the bright blue beads bring out the blue tone in the fir’s foliage.
Closer to the entry other, smaller trees echo the blue and gold theme while incorporating white and silver ornaments to play off of the nearby plantings.
The Main Conservatory lies behind the East Conservatory on the other side of this magnificent tree. It boasts two large, formal lawns encircled by walkways. Mixed seasonal plantings and trees of different sizes adorn the fringes of the lawn and provide changing tableaux throughout the seasons.
View of one of the pair of lawns in the Main Conservatory
The walkways encircling the periphery of the conservatory are packed with illuminated trees and seasonal plantings. The trees all maintain a similar color palette while exhibiting subtle differences in ornamentation.
A view down one of the side walkways of the Main Conservatory
One of the trees along the conservatory walkways
A close-up reveals this tree’s subtle mix of golds and soft reds with French-inspired motifs. The white paperwhites provide a great contrast and function to provide a visual ‘lift’ to the tree.
Close-up of the French-inspired ornaments of one of the walkway trees
These two larger trees occupy prominent places at the borders of the central lawns. One is embellished with gold and red ornaments while the other sports blue and silver. Notice how the soft red poinsettias are echoed in the color palette of the first and the bright blue salvia is mirrored in the second.
The soft pink poinsettias located to the side of this tree inject an important element of warmth into the entire composition.
A major highlight of the Main Conservatory is a pair of large trees located along the central pathway that bisects the two lawns. The trees are made entirely from red poinsettias. A peek inside reveals their pots carefully nestled into a tree-shaped form.
I thought I’d seen it all until I entered the Tropical Garden Room and spied this magnificent tree made of more than 400 living white and purple moth orchids. It is accented with silver balls and arrowhead-vine.
Close-up of orchid tree embellished with silver balls
The Children’s Christmas tree display, located in an adjoining greenhouse, grows larger every year. It consists of small trees decorated with ornaments designed and handcrafted by local students. This year’s display features 13 adorable Douglas firs.
Children’s Christmas tree display
The Estate Fruit house, which follows the Children’s tree display on the walking tour, is packed with potted topiaries and herbs, among them the highly fragrant alyssum, whose bright white flowers shimmer in the bright winter sun. A central tree in a deep green ‘X” box planter is decorated with crystal drops and green and gold glass ornaments.
Fruit House Christmas tree fringed with alyssum
This rosemary topiary was a stand-out amid a bed of fragrant white alyssum.
Rosemary topiary and alyssum
Close-up of the Tillandsia Tree
Located at the end of the walking tour, the Xeriscape Garden provides a stark contrast to all the other gardens’ lush greens. This year, it includes two magnificent trees, both of which are ‘decorated’ with bright red kalanchoes.
Succulent tree in the Xeriscape Garden
Central succulent tree in the Xeriscape Garden
Close-up of the succulent trees
Of course, these trees only form part of the magnificent display at Longwood Gardens featuring thousand of seasonal plants. For more photos of this year’s A Longwood Christmas, click here for my earlier post on 12 Great Holiday Design Ideas From Longwood Gardens.
Or, for more information on directions and hours of operation, go to Longwood Gardens’ official site for A Longwood Christmas, on view now to January 7, 2018.