Together Again

By Paul B. Redman, on

The past 13 weeks have been, in a word, unprecedented. Along with many around the globe, it remains a time full of challenges that seems, at times, relentlessly difficult. However, I have found this time to be one of great resilience. Of growth. Of love. Throughout our closure, our staff banded together in amazing ways to care for our Gardens. We demonstrated our dedication to our plants, and our love for Longwood, our commitment to one another, and our gratitude for you … even in the toughest of times. We found solace in our tasks at hand—safely keeping our plant collections alive, our legacy intact, and our Gardens preparing for a return we knew would one day come. Your encouragement fueled us. Astounded us. Sustained us. Our spirits remained high as we worked towards a more beautiful future—a time that we could, once again, share the tranquility, the spirit, the beauty of our Gardens with you, in person … because what is beauty if it is not shared with those you love? It is with immeasurable gratitude that I can now share the day is finally here … that we can begin welcoming our Members, first, on a limited non-public basis, back to our outdoor gardens starting June 18.

While nature itself never closes, we had no choice but to temporarily close our Gardens to the public starting the evening of March 13. We missed you—our Members, our visitors, our community— immensely during our temporary closure. We counted the days until we could welcome you back again. And we worked hard to do so. Here’s a peek at what we worked on during the closure.

We kept our staff safe. Each and every one of our staff had to make radical adjustments to keep our Gardens going, whether that staff member was working onsite or working from home. Once we were given clearance to continue caring for Longwood with essential staff, a small team worked onsite, nimbly approaching day-to-day care of our living collections in response to the ever-changing conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. With every single task and during every single day, we followed state and federal mandates and protocols to ensure the well-being of our staff, as well as employed strict safety protocols, ensured social distancing was practiced, and even offered free healthy lunches and grocery offerings to all staff working onsite to help ease anxiety and minimize the amount of outside public contact. 

During the closure, we reassessed what needed the most care, how we could safely work, and when and where work could safely take place. But the why was never a question. Photo by Carol Gross. 

We kept our plant collections thriving. Even with a much smaller onsite staff, we continued with our extraordinary care of our plants and core collections. Our required level of care and the reality of a far fewer number of onsite staff meant we had to make some difficult decisions, including removing some seasonal plants from our beds. That way, we were able to shift our efforts to other gardens and displays planned to be on view upon our reopening … the beautiful results of which you will soon experience.

One of the most difficult horticultural decisions we had to make during our closure was removing tulip bulbs along our iconic Flower Garden Walk. We did so to allow our staff to shift their efforts to other gardens and displays, as well as to make way for later summer annuals. Our Flower Garden Walk beds are no longer empty. They're now bursting with life, color, and texture, as shown above in an image of later summer annual planting in preparation for our reopening. Photo by Carol Gross. 

We kept our grounds and infrastructure strong. With a limited onsite staff, we tirelessly maintained our complex system of 210 buildings and structures, and our infrastructure, upon which our gardens rely. Despite having to temporarily reroute our entire irrigation system during the closure, prepare our Main Fountain Garden for our reopening, and other such massive undertakings, we’re proud to share that we kept Longwood strong and stable. 

We continued our commitment to our building, structures, and infrastructure, readying such features as our Open Air Theatre fountains for reopening. Photo by Carol Gross.

We brought our Gardens to you. We stayed connected online through social media and through our new Our Gardens Your Home. We stayed dedicated to enabling you to experience what was going on in our Gardens through the form of stunning imagery of what was in bloom, engaging activities for all ages, and special moments expressing our mission of horticulture, education, and the arts.

We kept our legacy intact. Even when faced with trials and tribulations—including the loss of our iconic nearly 200-year-old yellow cucumber magnolia during a late April windstorm—we persevered. We honored the shared vision of Pierre S. and Alice du Pont, never losing sight of why this place exists. In the case of the fallen yellow cucumber magnolia, we had propagated this beloved tree and planted resulting trees throughout the Gardens the past few years, meaning these trees will honor the original in the form of new growth and a strong future—a fitting tribute to recent times.

We supported our community. From the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in southeastern Pennsylvania we reached out to our local and regional partners to offer Longwood’s support and resources to help with the crisis support effort. We donated personal protection equipment to the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and the Chester County Hospital. We partnered with the Chester County Health Department to host antibody testing. We honored those on the front lines with a special luminaria thank you. While we cared for our beloved Gardens, we did not—nor will we ever—forget our community.

During the closure, we made great strides with our new Rose Garden design. Showcasing a modern design approach to rose gardens while still celebrating its early 20th century tradition, our Rose Garden is evolving and taking new shape. We have maintained its original 1930s architecture while giving it new structure, new texture, new views of nearby gardens, and new year-round visual interest. New plants take time to grow. This is a garden that will mature over time and offer something new to see in every season. Photo by Carol Gross. 

We kept our heads high. Powered by our love of the Gardens and our passion for Longwood, we rose to the occasion. We found new ways to depend on one another and found new ways each one of us could keep the Gardens going … and thriving. Our care for the Gardens was an inter-departmental effort of which we are immensely proud. 

An inter-departmental team formed to help care for our Gardens, with an all-hands-on-deck commitment to pitching in on vital projects to keep our Gardens healthy. Photo by Carol Gross.

We kept our promise to you. We’re welcoming you back to a place of beauty, a place of resilience, a place that has been so lovingly sustained … for all of our yesterdays, our todays, and our tomorrows.

Our beloved plants and trees have been waiting patiently to show off their beauty, give you a place of respite, and demonstrate the power of resilience. Upon reopening, our visiting experience will be different. We are committed to maintaining our culture of safety and well-being for all. Therefore, we have instituted new visiting guidelines in accordance with state and local regulations to help provide a safer and enjoyable experience while enjoying the beauty of our Gardens. These new regulations touch many aspects of visiting our Gardens, including operating days and hours, Member reservations and ticket availability, personal protective equipment when visiting, arrival practices, mobility rentals, available restrooms, open garden spaces and pathways, and more. Conditions in our Gardens will continue to evolve, as will visiting guidelines, and we look forward to offering additional experiences as soon as we are able.

Wide open spaces, tranquility, possibility, and beauty await. Photo by Carol Gross.

For example, some of our iconic outdoor garden spaces will require mindful walking in order to maintain safety and social distancing while you enjoy them … but they’re still here and still thriving. Our indoor spaces, including our Conservatory and Peirce-du Pont House will not be available upon our reopening … but they’ll be ready and waiting for when we can once again open their doors.

Upon reopening, we will be keeping our fountains running continuously throughout the day. The fountains will be dancing to the sounds of water and nature, not to music nor to dedicated shows, so you may soak in the splendor at any time while still maintaining social distancing.

While conditions will evolve and guidelines will change, many constants remain. Our appreciation for you. Our gratitude for one another. Our joy in sharing our beauty with you. And our commitment to many, many more beautiful tomorrows. Welcome back to Longwood.

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