A Longwood Christmas à la Française!December 8, 2017
This year, our horticulturists are celebrating Christmas with a French flair, heralding the season with many a fleur-de-lis. You’ll spy this floral symbol of French royalty throughout our Conservatory—as ornaments on trees, in the design of the fruit floating on the Fern Floor of Exhibition Hall, and in the living wreath near the Potting Shed. A sense of luxury and opulence weaves through our Garden spaces, creating a tapestry of exquisite details. In a single visit, transport yourself to the palatial rooms of Versailles or to the quiet countryside of Provence, with your imagination as your passport.
Near the Green Wall, you’ll find two trees shimmering in reds and golds. Sugared lemons, pomegranates, berries, and delicate glass ornaments nestle among the branches. Iron gates find new life bridging the space between these grand trees, which frame a eucalyptus wreath sweetened by sugared fruit.
The Music Room is perhaps the most opulent display within the Conservatory, worthy of the Sun King, Louis XIV, himself. Here, the proportion and scale of the décor draw your eyes upward to emphasize the grandeur of the palatial space, while the exaggerated height of the various elements makes you feel dwarfed within the room. Two eighteen-foot trees are draped with white lights, crystals, and pearls. Longwood’s carpenters created the ornate nine-foot tall mirrors to recall the mirrors of Versailles and to reflect the dozens of candles that softly light the entire space. In the center of the room, tall silver candelabras, topiaries, and miniature lemon cypress trees adorn a mirrored dining table set for twelve, another piece custom-made by Longwood’s carpenters. Finally, the Music Room’s patio provides an extended view, making the space seem even grander. An archway of delicate branches with dangling glass bubbles, each holding a candle, leads to a fountain flanked by topiaries with white lights.
The floor of the Exhibition Hall mimics the strict lines and spaces of a French parterre garden. The center “pathway” of green apples and gold walnuts leads to a fountain, while apples and cranberries in the symmetrical flanking spaces form abstracted fleur-de-lis patterns on the floor. Because the design team has used fruit and water in this space before, they knew from trial and error that Granny Smith apples would always float stem-side up. Gilded walnuts were a last minute addition for their color and texture. “The Fern Floor is the perfect place for our own version of a parterre garden,” says Jim Sutton. “In order to appreciate the design, you have to see it from above, and the sunken floor allows for this.” Because you can walk around and see it from all angles, the fleur-de-lis design is always center stage. Finally, none of the fruit will go to waste: when the display is dismantled in January, it will feed livestock at a local farm.
You'll immediately see this 25-foot white fir when you enter the East Conservatory. Even across this half-acre space, this dazzling tree effortlessly stakes its claim in the room’s landscape. Blue beads and copper spirals dangle among gold glass ornaments. Each side of the tree is flanked by a parterre filled with boxwood and moss topiaries and simple fountain jets. Perfectly manicured, the topiaries appear very natural in their setting even though their shape and placement are not at all random or haphazard.
The Mediterranean Garden opens a door to southern France, far from the sparkling lights and mirrors of Paris and Versailles. An olive tree quietly commands the center of the room, wrapped in miniature white lights and adorned with small tile ornaments painted in blue and white. The lushest detail is the bright purple, knee-high lavender completely surrounding the olive tree. Bright pink bougainvillea, yellow lemons, cyclamen, and amaryllis fill in the perimeter of the room.
The Estate Fruit House offers its own version of opulence with its many potted topiaries and herbs filling the tables on both sides of the room. Beds of fragrant alyssum surround rosemary topiaries at the entrance. Culinary herbs that we typically see only in summer gardens are bountiful in this greenhouse space, which mimics the mild winters of parts of the Mediterranean. In the center of the room, crystal drops and green and gold glass ornaments decorate the tree on display. Gold ribbon and beads wrap the branches from top to bottom.
Eucalyptus garlands wrapped with white lights lead to the Potting Shed and a living fleur-de-lis wreath. “We wanted an element that just says, ‘I’m French,’ ” says Sutton. Yellow kalanchoe, bird’s-nest fern, and red “ribbon” create the wreath’s design. Longwood’s metal shop created the ribbon from spun aluminum to withstand watering and regular maintenance. In the same spot, be sure to admire two tall poinsettia standards flanking the doors of the Potting Shed.
Photos by Heather Coletti.