Visiting a friend in Pennsylvania in late April, we took advantage of the warm spring weather to explore Longwood Gardens. I had only recently learned of these gardens, and while I knew they’d be full of springtime loveliness, I wasn’t prepared for the dazzling beauty we found. What began as a 400-acre farmstead for the Pierce family in the early 1700s is now one of the premier botanical gardens in the country. Covering nearly 1,100 acres, Longwood Gardens includes 20 different outdoor gardens, an elaborate system of fountains and the most extraordinary conservatory I’ve ever seen.
We strolled the vast grounds, taking in the whimsical topiary and Renaissance-style main fountain. The sound of ringing bells drew us to the Chimes Tower, an early 20th-century structure that houses a 62-bell carillon. The Tower stands beside a waterfall and reflective pool, next to which a girl was having her sure-to-be stunning quinceañera photos taken. And then we came to the tulips. So many flowers swayed in the breeze and glistened from intermittent showers that for a minute I thought I’d fallen through a looking glass and emerged in Holland!
Reluctantly moving on from the tulip bonanza, we climbed some nondescript stairs hoping for a better view of the fountains. Little did we know that a four-acre conservatory would open before us at the top. We quite literally gasped with astonishment walking through the glass doors into the so-called Orangery! Before us stood manicured lawns, ivy-covered columns and a fantastic array of plants and flowers, many I had never seen before. There were beds of guzmania and pansies, hydrangeas and calla lilies interspersed with towering delphiniums and foxgloves and countless other varieties in a multitude of hues. Everywhere you looked there was something new to discover!
Eager to see what other botanical treats the gardens contained, we headed towards the Flower Garden Walk which sounded promising. A fountain divides the walkway, which stretches the length of two football fields. During out visit it was lined with beds of poppies, grape hyacinth, columbine, bleeding hearts and tulips galore, with purple and white foxgloves standing sentry. We left through the Rose Arbor, which was lovely even not in bloom.
Longwood Gardens is located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles from Philadelphia. I can’t think of a better day trip!
Visitor Information for Longwood Gardens
Timed tickets are required for admission, meaning that you’ll have a set day and time for entry into the gardens. The reason for this is to allow only a pre-determined number of visitors into the garden every hour, which is meant to reducing crowding. Tickets cost US$18 and can be purchased online or at the Visitor Center, though you might have to wait for the next available time slot.
The gardens are open every day of the year from 9 am – 6 pm, with longer hours during the summer months and over the Christmas holiday. Special events can sometimes cause the gardens to close early so check the website beforehand.
A reasonably-priced on-site restaurant serves a range of options from soups and sandwiches to chicken tenders and macaroni and cheese. Ice cream and freshly baked pastries are also available. I recommend the fruit tart.
Which gardens around the world have delighted you?