We are thrilled to welcome our American correspondent and dear friend, expat Kirsty Dougherty to the Ross Garden Tours team. And we look forward to many more postcards from her neck of the woods soon. Kirsty is a horticulturist and avid garden traveller and Longwood is one of our favourite East Coast USA gardens that we visit regularly, usually in Spring. So what a delight it is to see it in all its magical winter glory at Christmas time. Take it away, Kirsty!
Words and pictures by Kirsty Dougherty
It has been a magical Christmas at Longwood Gardens and last month I had the very delightful job of sharing this experience with a tour group.
Located in the Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania, Longwood was created by Samuel Pierre duPont and is today, one of the finest public gardens in the world. I’m very fortunate to live within driving distance and must have visited at least 20 times in the 5 years I’ve lived in New Jersey! Known for its horticultural excellence, superb plant material and immaculate presentation, Longwood is a must visit garden in every season. I love Longwood all year, but if I’m honest, Christmas is my favourite time to visit.
From early December, Longwood is transformed into a Christmas wonderland. For three months, arborists and gardeners labour to thread thousands of lights through the outdoor garden, and the result is magic! At 3:30pm the lights are switched on and gradually; its takes about 45 minutes for all the lights to come on; the transformation occurs. Fountains, treehouses, woods and lakes all take on a totally different identity under the lights. To walk the outdoor gardens after dark is like walking a different garden. Nothing looks the same! It is so much fun and it’s no wonder by nightfall, the gardens are filled with people, all wanting to experience the same magic.
Enter the Conservatory, and you are in for a special delight. The Conservatory is one of the world’s great greenhouses, covering 4.5 acres and housing fabulous seasonal exhibits. Given the size of greenhouse and extent of these exhibits, it is a remarkable achievement that in just 3 days, the Conservatory flips from the Chrysanthemum Festival to the Christmas Spectacular! Hundreds of volunteers and staff are involved in a highly orchestrated effort and together create a world that delights thousands of visitors. Christmas at Longwood means inspired designs, gorgeous decorations and stunning plants. Every year has a different theme. This Christmas, Longwood celebrates Fountains and Water. Blue, white and icicle decorations dominate, creating one of the best and most elegant displays I’ve seen at Longwood.
The Conservatory is so vast that Longwood has created a Christmas Trail to make sure you don’t miss any highlights. Entering via the East Conservatory gives you the first view of the interior. Filled with ponds, waterfalls and towering palms, the view through the East Conservatory to a brilliant blue Christmas tree, offers you a peek at what’s ahead. A stop at the Green Wall is essential. Designed by British Architect Kim Wilkie to mimic a jungle, the living wall is the largest in North America. The effect of being surrounded by all that green is incredibly soothing, plus it houses the super eco-friendly restrooms, so it’s also très convenient! Back on the Christmas Trail, you are led through the East Conservatory, past folks singing carols in the Ballroom and into the Exhibition Hall. This garden is one of the Conservatory’s centrepieces and the room where Mr & Mrs duPont once held their staff Christmas Parties. Always a highlight of the Christmas exhibit, this year the Exhibition Hall is exquisite. By day, this room pops with colour: masses of red poinsettias and white Hydrangea ‘Shooting Star’, potted red winterberries, living Fir trees festooned with poinsettias dazzle the viewer, and above is the soft green canopy of Australian tree ferns (cyathea cooperi). The original marble floor is flooded, creating a stunning reflection. What a sight! Return at night, and the vista has changed again.
There is so much more to see at Longwood this Christmas. The different themed Christmas trees are wonderful: my favourite is the succulent tree in the Silver Garden made of antique stone fountains filled with succulents and lights. Longwood has a tradition of standardizing plants and their standard poinsettia trees are amazing. The handmade icicle chandelier in the Exhibition Hall is gorgeous, and the playfulness of the Children’s Garden and the G-Scale model train will delight all ages. Longwood is a garden for everyone: for inspiration and Christmas spirit, there is simply nothing like Longwood!
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