Longwood Gardens Gets Dressed Up For The Holidays

Longwood Gardens 2016 Photo credit: Here By Design

For a long time, Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens has been my go-to destination for the holidays. The magnificent property features over 1,077 acres of formal gardens, woodlands and meadows that change with each new season. Located at the heart of the gardens is one of my favorite places, the huge glass and steel Orangery. It is here, in this 1920’s-era greenhouse, that my holidays come alive in the horticultural extravaganza known as A Longwood Christmas.

When it comes to inspiring, it doesn’t get much better than Longwood Gardens. From late November to just after the New Year, the Orangery is filled with holiday-themed displays, including hundreds of decorated trees, rare plants and miles of seasonal flowers. Covering nearly four acres of greenhouses, the colorful blooms and exotic specimens are all embellished with millions of twinkling lights.

At my most recent visit, each turn of the corner revealed a new color scheme, plant display and fragrance; a heady combination that made for a constantly changing experience.

This year’s display showcases over 6,000 seasonal plants.

 

THE TOUR

To begin their tour of the Orangery, visitors enter through the majestic East Conservatory. In this huge, vaulted space the predominantly red, white and silver horticultural displays are punctuated by gurgling fountains and tiered pools all linked by rushing streams of water. A warm, earthy aroma mixed with flower fragrances permeates the space.

This year’s exhibit in the East Conservatory features formal flower beds and manicured pathways fringed by generous drifts of fragrant paper white narcissus, euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’, miniature arborvitae, ferns and snow white cyclamen. A permanent display of giant palms and other tropical plants provides the backdrop for the seasonal flowers.

A number of beautiful Christmas trees are situated within the beds and along the walkways.

Close-up of some of the stunning detail on each of the trees.

At the end of the East Conservatory is the largest tree of the exhibit, an 18-foot Douglas fir. The giant tree is encircled by bright green ferns that point up the tree’s deep red ribbons and other natural decorations.

Behind the East Conservatory is the Main Conservatory exhibit. The dramatic space consists of a pair of manicured lawns encircled by seasonal plantings and massive stone columns wreathed in ivy. Giant hanging baskets of scarlet poinsettias are suspended high above the display.

Lawn in the Main Conservatory

On a bright winter day at Longwood Gardens, sunlight filters down through the vaulted iron and glass ceiling and traces a path across the lush borders of this iconic space.

I’ve always loved how, in the far corner of the Conservatory, the color palette shifts from traditional reds and greens to vibrant yellows and blues. This year’s exhibit includes a healthy dose of bright yellow twig dogwoods, orange birds of paradise, miniature lace-cap hydrangeas, soft pink poinsettias and spiky blue coleus.

Directly behind the East Conservatory is Longwood Gardens’ Exhibition Hall. Small jets of water spout from a sunken area in which ‘floats’ a grand central tree decorated in bright red poinsettias and snow white orchids.

The soft purple blooms of bougainvillea growing along the Conservatory’s rafters set up a strong color contrast with the bright red poinsettias.

After the brilliant colors of the main Conservatory, the minty green Acacia Passage provides a cool refuge. It is best known for the lacy tendrils of cinnamon wattle trees that travel up its walls and cascade down from the ceiling. Potted white hydrangeas underplanted with trailing ivy lead the eye down through the narrow space.

Located at the far end of the Acacia Passage, the Orchid Room (part of Longwood Gardens’ permanent display) features over 500 fragrant orchid varieties. An orchid grower replaces plants three times a week to ensure a continuous colorful exhibit.

Orchid vanda ‘Sansai Blue’ hangs in the Orchid Room

A right turn takes you to the  Mediterranean Garden, which showcases plants from regions around the world with Mediterranean-like climates. The central tree is decorated in bright-colored balls that echo the warm-climate plantings.

Kniphofia uvaria, commonly known as Red Hot Poker

In the Bonsai Hall, a dramatic red and green wreath hangs in stark relief against the pale grey wall.

At the far end of the Mediterranean Garden is the Palm House, which is designed to resemble a tropical rain forest. The three-layered garden showcases Longwood Gardens’ wide variety of palms, cycads and tropical groundcovers. This tropical tree displays Aglaonema ‘Osaka’ (a variety of Chinese evergreen) on a custom-made form topped with flower heads pulled from Longwood’s palm collection.

Close-up of the Palm House tree

One of the most dramatic trees of all is housed in the Xeriscape garden, a stunning mix of grey, white, silver and red drought-tolerant plants.

Close-up of the succulent tree

At Longwood Gardens, even the mini pitcher plants are decorated for the holidays.

For more information on the exhibit, go to A Longwood Christmas.  The display is open from now until early January.

 

Longwood Gardens’ Nightscape Delivers A Mind-Bending Experience

Glistening cacti at Longwood Gardens' Nightscape/here by design IMG_1348

Giant cacti illuminated by LED lights in Longwood’s xeriscape garden

If you’ve been reading my blog over the past couple years, you already know that I’m a huge fan of Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The 1000+-acre property of gardens filled with specialty trees, shrubs and flowers never fails to move me, no matter what the season. And now Longwood has added yet another way for visitors to appreciate its extraordinary beauty. It’s called Nightscape.

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View of the Conservatory lit up for Nightscape

Billed as an ‘ immersive nighttime adventure’, Nightscape is a multi-sensory experience featuring moving images, lights and original music. The action gets going in the gardens just after dark when LED lights suddenly transform the giant property into a technicolor dreamscape. As visitors move through the Conservatory and outdoor gardens, the lights continually change form around them, presenting a kaleidoscope of varying colors and patterns.

Nightscape takes place across seven locations around the gardens, including the main lake, the Flower Garden Walk, the Topiary Garden and the grand rooms of the indoor Conservatory.

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LED lights transform the Palm House into a magical kingdom

The display is accompanied by original music composed especially for the display. The ethereal melodies float through the gardens, adding an otherworldly dimension and heightening the experience.

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A giant grass takes on a new personae

It’s quite a thing to walk through the Conservatory at night with all the colors changing around you. As the lights move across the plants, they highlight parts of the garden while obscuring others. The reflection of the tree branches in the windows of this part of the installation made it seem like a wild storm was brewing.

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At other times the lights form patterns steeped in symbolism that cause you to pause and reflect.

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Outdoors in the Topiary Garden, the clipped forms of giant boxwood are enhanced with colorful, whirling patterns. To my eye, the shrubs looked like spinning tops.

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But a few seconds later, the same bushes switched to black and white, conveying an entirely different feeling.

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The Rose Arbor, adjacent to the Flower Walk, features a wild assortment of oversized plants and shrubs illuminated in neon colors. The garden changes shape as the lights move around it revealing crazy daisy-shaped blooms and glowing rocks.

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On the far side of the Rose Arbor, the Flower Walk, which directs visitors deeper into the garden, takes on heightened dimensions with its stripy lights; almost as if there was a stadium full of people above you.

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My daughter took a video of the Flower Walk. I think you’ll get the idea.

The show was created by Klip Collective, an experiential art shop that specializes in integrating projection lighting and technology with storytelling to create compelling experiences.

Nightscape runs now through October 29, 2016, rain or shine. The display stays open until 11 pm. Ideal viewing times are after 8 pm in September and 7 pm in October.