site site.xsl LongwoodGardens
section nav_section.xsl section_The_Gardens
page pg_standard.xsl TheStoryofLongwood_1_3_2_1_1
Exquisite flowers, majestic trees, dazzling fountains, extravagant conservatory, starlit theatre, thunderous organ—all describe the magic of Longwood Gardens, a horticultural showstopper where the gardening arts are encased in classic forms and enhanced by modern technology. Many generations helped create Longwood Gardens, but one individual—Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954), industrialist, conservationist, farmer, designer, impresario, and philanthropist—made the most enduring contribution.
Pierre du Pont was the great-grandson of Eleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771-1834), who arrived from France in 1800 and founded the E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company gunpowder works. Pierre turned the family business into a corporate empire in the early 20th century and used his resulting fortune to develop the Longwood property.
More than 200 years earlier, the land had been inhabited by the native Lenni Lenape tribe who hunted, fished, and farmed the productive wilderness. In 1700, a Quaker family named Peirce purchased the property from William Penn and soon established a working farm. Joshua and Samuel Peirce began planting an arboretum on the farm in 1798. The farm was purchased in 1906 by Pierre du Pont so he could preserve the trees, and from 1907 until the 1930s Mr. du Pont created most of what is enjoyed today. In 1946, the Gardens were turned over to a foundation set up by Mr. du Pont. After his death in 1954 Longwood's first director was hired. Since that time Longwood Gardens has matured into a magnificent horticultural showplace filled with countless opportunities for enjoyment and learning.
Longwood owes its present-day success to the Peirces, who actively pursued a Quaker interest in natural history. By 1850, the site was known as one of the finest collections of trees in the nation, and one of the first public parks, and its aesthetic qualities were as important as its botanical significance.
Pierre du Pont's purchase of the property to save the trees reflects an acute awareness of plants and gardens dating from childhood. The du Pont family had a long tradition of gardening, and Pierre would turn out to be one of its greatest gardeners.
Pierre's travels opened him to all sorts of influences. At the monumental world's fairs of the late nineteenth century, new technology was dramatically brought together for him to behold. As a six-year-old, he was mesmerized by a huge display of water pumps in action at Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exposition. At 19, he enjoyed the Exposition Universelle in Paris with its new Eiffel Tower. Pierre was 23 when the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago astounded him with grandiose architecture and illuminated fountains. As his personal resources and professional experience grew and he started building for himself, he drew upon these technical innovations and architectural styles.
Pierre was also influenced by a wide variety of garden settings, including Horticultural Hall at the 1876 Centennial, England's Sydenham Crystal Palace, the garden maze at Hampton Court, and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, as well as to the flora of South America, the Caribbean, Florida, California, and Hawaii. Visits to more than 20 Italian villas and 50 French châteaux focused on the architectural qualities and water effects of those gardens. His extensive collection of garden books, especially the lavish folios that documented European landscapes, reinforced the impressions made on these trips.
At the age of 36, Mr. du Pont bought the Peirce farm and began creating what would become Longwood Gardens. He followed no grand plan; rather, he built the gardens piecemeal, beginning with the 600-foot-long Flower Garden Walk in 1907. Although his later gardens would draw heavily on Italian and French forms, this early effort reflected what he termed an "old-fashioned" influence, with nostalgic cottage-garden flowers, exuberant shrubs, rose-laden trellises, and even a shiny gazing ball. The scale was grand, the accessories quaint.
The springtime effect of the Flower Garden was so successful that in June of 1909 Mr. du Pont hosted the first of many garden parties. These fêtes became the highlight of the summer social season and encouraged Pierre to look for ever more wonderful ways to delight his guests.
Five years later was the debut of the new Open Air Theatre. His inspiration was an outdoor theatre at the Villa Gori, near Siena, Italy, although his version was much larger. Within a year, he equipped it with secret fountains that shot out of the stage floor to drench visiting nieces and nephews.
Pierre enhanced the domestic comforts of Longwood by enlarging the original Peirce farm house, notably in 1914 when he doubled its size. The house had its share of country place amenities: a bowling alley, automatic fire doors, and counterweighted windows that lowered into the basement, and a built-in rug rolling machine. The attached conservatory was Longwood's first "winter garden" and Pierre's first experience with the aesthetics of greenhouse gardening.
He must have been pleased because he was soon constructing much larger facilities at Longwood, no doubt bolstered by his experience as president of the DuPont Engineering Company that had handled $130 million of World War I construction. The massive Conservatory opened in 1921, a perpetual Eden sustained by twentieth-century fuel oil. It would be hard to imagine a more theatrical setting for the indoor display of plants, unless it would be to the music of a massive pipe organ, which he replaced with one triple in size years later.
With the Conservatory a reality, Pierre turned his attention to another great love—fountains. Never mind that Longwood didn't have an abundant water supply; with electricity, anything was possible. He based his Italian Water Garden on the Villa Gamberaia near Florence, but he added 600 jets of recirculating water. At the Open Air Theatre, he replaced the old waterworks with 750 illuminated jets. His hydraulic masterpiece was the Main Fountain Garden in front of the Conservatory: 10,000 gallons a minute shot as high as 130 feet and illuminated in every imaginable color. Its complex engineering didn't faze him. "The fountains themselves are of simple design...," he noted. "It is the landscape effect that adds to the total bill."
The completion of the fountains in the mid 1930s marked an end to major construction during Mr. du Pont's lifetime, although he built a 30-by-36-foot oval analemmatic sundial in what is now the Topiary Garden in the late 1930s, with a new Rose Garden nearby.
As early as 1914 with the formation of Longwood, Inc., Pierre was thinking about the eventual fate of the property after his death. In 1937 the Longwood Foundation was created to handle his charitable giving. In 1944, Mrs. du Pont died, and he was more concerned than ever about Longwood's future, particularly since he had no children but considered the Gardens part of the du Pont family legacy. The government gave approval in 1946 for the Foundation to operate Longwood Gardens "for the sole use of the public for purposes of exhibition, instruction, education and enjoyment." When Pierre died in 1954 at the age of 84, he left Longwood with a well-established horticultural tradition, experienced businessmen (his nephews) as trustees, and a sizeable endowment.
Enormous effort and funds have since been expended to convert Longwood into a garden with maximum public appeal while retaining the dramatic charm of Mr. du Pont's creation. Greenhouse areas used to grow fruits and vegetables were replaced with horticultural displays in 1955. A picnic area and plant nursery were established in 1956, the same year that an orientation center opened and guide maps were printed. A Desert House and 13 outdoor waterlily pools were constructed in 1957. New greenhouses devoted to tropicals opened in 1958. A plant breeding program was initiated in 1960, and, two years later, a new Visitor Center with a shop, auditorium, and 1,000-car parking lot on the former golf course showed a major commitment to the public.
Greenhouse production facilities were expanded in 1963, and later a large Palm House opened. The 1928 Azalea House was replaced with a clear-span structure now known as the East Conservatory. The Peirce-du Pont House was opened to the public in 1976.
Mr. du Pont dictated Longwood's aesthetic approach during his lifetime, aided by his wife and the head gardeners. Professional management was instituted in 1955, and some du Pont family members felt that although the Gardens were growing beautiful plants, the displays were a patchwork. To address this situation the Trustees established in 1958 an Advisory Committee of five du Pont family members to help with aesthetic matters.
Local and regional landscape architects created indoor "Example Gardens" in the 1980s and the outdoor Idea Garden in 1981 devoted to the latest in annuals, perennials, ground covers, grasses, roses, vines, herbs, berries, tree fruits, and vegetables. An indoor Children's Garden opened in 1987 and was redesigned in 1990. A third, greatly expanded version was unveiled in 2007. Garden architect Isabelle Greene created the Silver Garden in 1989, Roberto Burle Marx and Conrad Hamerman produced the tropical Cascade Garden in 1992, and Ron Lutsko designed the Mediterranean Garden in 1993.
The Advisory and Landscape Committees were involved in all these projects, with joint members and invited professionals meeting regularly with the staff to critique existing displays, approve ideas and changes, and suggest new approaches. This ensures that all possible concerns, from historic preservation to horticultural and aesthetic excellence to practical maintenance, are considered. The result is a constantly evolving garden.
Longwood's foremost influence on American horticulture has been through its educational programs, in keeping with Mr. du Pont's desire to establish "a school where students and others may receive instruction in the arts of horticulture and floriculture." For the past three decades, as many as 5,000 students a year have attended Continuing Education classes designed for both amateur and professional gardeners and nurserymen. In addition, since 1958 some 1,000 students from all over the world have participated in one or more of seven intensive programs, ranging from internships to a two-year professional gardener training program to a master's degree program in public horticultural administration. Graduates have gone on to leadership roles in many of the country's top horticultural institutions.
Longwood's extensive performing arts program is an outgrowth of Pierre du Pont's interest in music and theatre and takes advantage of the many performance spaces he created. More than 400 events are scheduled each year, from organ and carillon concerts to Open Air Theatre productions. Seasonal festivals offer ample opportunities for all types of activities.
Winter Fun Days and summer Ice Cream Concerts are designed for children. Spectacular fireworks and fountain displays attract 5,000 spectators on summer evenings, and more than 200,000 visitors come to see 500,000 lights outdoors at Christmas.
The public has embraced Longwood Gardens with great enthusiasm. Its early heritage is rich, and its modern-day additions exemplify the finest in contemporary horticulture. Yet most of its public appeal is due to Pierre du Pont's innate sense of the garden as theatre, and that ties Longwood directly to the great gardens of Italy and France, and to the spectacular world's fairs that proclaimed the triumph of technology. Longwood combines the gardening arts with technology, and the results are unforgettable.
element callout2.xsl WhatsinBloom
A team of Longwood Volunteers gathers horticultural highlights from the Outdoor Gardens and Conservatory. Download a pdf of their top picks for the week, including photos and locations.
element callout2.xsl Victoria_Exhibit
Journey to the wild, remote flood plains of South America and to the great gardens of Europe and North America to discover Victoria, the waterlily queen.
element callout2.xsl Festival_of_Fountains
Stand before towering fountains, wander shady groves, see fireworks light up the night sky, and enjoy concerts in the most beautiful outdoor settings.
©2006-2012 Longwood Gardens. All Rights Reserved.