Tanglewood’s inspiration is ignited and fueled by our research and visits to many of the historic conservatories throughout the world. We are very fortunate to have the luxury of living very close to many of these historic sites. We are certainly blessed to have several literally right in our backyard – Wye Orangery, Druid Hill and Longwood Gardens to name just a few. Many of Tanglewood clients have also been inspired by various historic conservatories and often ask if we can incorporate some of the distinct architectural details into their design. Alan recently visited Longwood Gardens to shoot pictures of the beautiful greenhouses, conservatory and gardens for his upcoming book on great public conservatories. We thought you would enjoy the history of this amazing property as much as we did.
Originally purchased from William Penn in 1700 by fellow Quaker George Peirce, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA is one of the premiere botanical gardens in the United States. With over 1,077 acres of gardens, woodlands and meadows, visitors can experience exotic plants and native flora, indoor and outdoor displays and a full schedule of events, performances, seasonal attractions as well as educational lectures, courses and workshops.
Longwood’s ‘roots’ can be traced to the native Lenni Lenape tribe that fished local streams, hunted and planted fields. In fact, many quartz spear points have been discovered around the property. In 1730, George Peirce’s son, Joshua built a brick farmhouse on the property that still stands today. In 1798, the great-grandsons of George began planting an arboretum that soon covered 15 acres. Originally called ‘Peirce’s Park’, it has been open off and on to the public since the late 1700’s and by 1850 had amassed one of the finest collections of trees in the nation. The park became a grand venue to hold family reunions and picnics through the mid to late 19th century.
Early in the 20th century, the park fell out of favor and the arboretum deteriorated due to lack of attention. Passing through several owners, a lumber mill operator was contracted to clear cut trees from a 41 acre parcel in 1906. This threat prompted one resident of the Delaware Valley to take action to prevent the decimation of such an historical landmark.
July 1906 Pierre duPont purchased the farm to save the trees – but his vision extended far beyond just saving the 41 acre tract. The expansive enhancements and improvements that visitors enjoy today can be traced back to the vision and actions of Mr. duPont. Certainly influenced by his family’s long-standing tradition of gardening and funded through his success within corporate America, Pierre DuPont would become one of the country’s most premiere and influential gardeners.
duPont laid out the first garden in 1907 – a 600’ long Flower Garden Walk, which is still in existence today and continues to be one of Longwood Gardens most popular gardens.
Buoyed by the recent successes of the Flower Garden Walk and the subsequent open Air Theatre, duPont was searching for a way to combat the oftentimes dreary winter. A project to extend the original Peirce house, which connected the new and old wings with a conservatory, was devised – Longwood’s first winter garden. Presented to his new bride, Alice as a wedding gift in 1915, the conservatory featured a courtyard with exotic plants and a small marble fountain.
A much larger, grand conservatory was under construction by 1916. The stunning conservatory was opened in 1921 and filled not with the usual choice of exotic species that was all the rage, instead fruits and flowers were used in a decorative manner that emphasized their horticultural importance.
The technology utilized was state-of-the-art for that time period and all systems (heating, water, power) were hidden in tunnels so as not to distract from the views of the glass-covered conservatory. The conservatory is a 4 ½ acre greenhouse housing 20 indoor gardens and over 5,500 types of plants. The conservatory’s Exhibition Hall, with its original sunken marble floors, has been used over the years for special exhibits and events. The floors are typically filled with water to reflect the foliage, but when used for events, the floors are drained.
Over many succeeding years, duPont’s vision and execution of gardens, fountains and musical venues flourished. By the mid 1930’s Longwood had grown from the original 202 acres to 926. After duPont’s death in 1954, the trustees of the Foundation assumed the helm and focused on transforming the private estate into one for the public. New gardens, along with a plant nursery, an experimental greenhouse and a newly created Department of Education were created.
In addition to the public-display cultivation, Longwood Gardens has had a prolific history of propagation and experimental gardening. None of these histories are more interesting than that of the V. amazonica, a freakishly large water lily that inspired and forever changed architecture!
Tanglewood’s next blog will take an in-depth look at how this lily forever changed the course of history and the impact on conservatory architecture. Email us to receive a first sneak peek at this article!
More photos of Longwood Gardens