Education has always been a huge part of Pierre S. du Pont's legacy at Longwood Gardens. Before his death, Mr. du Pont expressed a wish to establish a school to train students in the art and science of horticulture, and in 1970 the first Professional Gardener class was welcomed at Longwood. Students in the two year program receive intense training in the classroom and in the gardens, learning through hands-on experience. This year, Professional Gardener (PG) students broke new ground—literally and figuratively—as designers and creators of the newest garden display at Longwood: The Student Exhibition Garden. It's the first exhibition garden at Longwood designed solely by students. My class, the PG Class of December 2010, is the first to design and install the gardens!
Throughout the history of the program, PG students have been required to design and maintain a 15' x 35' vegetable garden and a 15' x 15' ornamental garden near the student residences, outside the public gardens. While offering an outlet for creativity and serious hands-on learning, the gardens could only be enjoyed by residents. Longwood decided that students' talents should be showcased in the Gardens proper, and what better way to show our guests what our students learn and do in the PG Program? Landscape Designer and PG alum Danilo Maffei was called upon to redesign the Example Garden (near the Idea Garden) into an adaptable space that could house the new Student Exhibition Garden. The space was divided into four quadrants measuring roughly 18' x 64' and given the working designations Plot A, Plot B, and so on.
Dan is also the instructor for the courses in Landscape Design and Landscape Construction that are part of the rigorous academic curriculum in the PG Program. In the summer of our first year we were divided into teams and tasked with designing a show garden for Longwood (no pressure!). Some of us had had design classes or first-hand experience before, some hadn't, so we were teamed up in such a way that those who had never worked on a landscape design project were paired with someone who has. Then each team was assigned one of the four plots to design. In order to develop our design programs, we interviewed the client—in this case, Longwood Gardens, personified by Display Division Leader Rodney Eason. We all peppered him with specific questions about what he wanted for the gardens and came away with three main points: "Wow," "Fragrance," and "Safety." With those things in mind, concept development began.
As the concepts were developed into final designs, we met with a group of Longwood staff who provided feedback and suggestions on each design. The designs were then refined even further to incorporate the suggestions where appropriate to the design concept. A final presentation was made to Longwood's Advisory Committee, who were almost as excited as we are about this new garden project! Along with creating the designs, we're responsible for the procurement of all plant material and hard goods (things like containers, arches, and building materials) needed to construct our designs and managing the budgets granted to each garden.
We also developed an installation schedule for each phase of the project and composed interpretive content that the Visitor Education staff will use to design signage for our gardens. The gardens are intended to be temporary display gardens; they will only exist for three seasons (spring through fall) and also have to conform to the overall theme of Longwood Gardens each year. As part of the mentoring process, the newest PGs (Class of 2011) will lend a hand in the installation and maintenance of our gardens. They will design their gardens in their class with Dan this summer, then they will mentor the next class (Class of 2012) when they install their gardens in the same space next year.
With the designs finalized and site construction wrapping up in March, we were able to officially break ground by marking out the hardscape areas. This was done with Dan's tutelage as part of our Landscape Construction class during the winter term. Record snow falls and saturated ground did their part to delay our installation schedules, but we finally put stakes in place and excavation began!
With installation now well under way, the gardens are causing quite a stir with staff and visitors. The Student Exhibition Garden is accessible to guests, who can watch our progress and chat with us as we install our designs. A grand unveiling ceremony is planned for late June when the gardens are complete, at which time the gardens themselves will be open and guests will be invited to experience each garden while learning from the students who created them! Stay tuned to our blog, Facebook and Twitter to keep informed about the newest garden display at Longwood!