Reimagination Realized

By Paul B. Redman, on

It’s been said that change is the only constant in life … and a garden is no exception to that very wise rule. Change is what keeps a garden growing, thriving, and evolving. Without change, a garden would have no life, no vibrancy, no connection to Nature herself. The same rule holds true for Longwood: change and improvement are our constant guides. When Pierre S. du Pont bought the Peirce farm in 1906 and soon began creating what would become Longwood Gardens, he saw the potential in change, imagined the possibilities, and enthusiastically went about it—even at one time asking guests to plant flower seeds during their visit so those guests could be part of Longwood and its, quite literal, growth. He delivered on his vision of ensuring the future of Longwood as an unparalleled place of enjoyment for all to enjoy. In that spirit, we are thrilled to announce our newest—and most ambitious—change. Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience—the largest expansion, reimagination, and preservation of our Conservatory and surrounding landscape in Longwood’s modern history—continues our legacy of innovation and creates new worlds of possibility, new experiences beyond your wildest imagination, and infinitely new moments of beauty to share with one another.

Longwood Reimagined has been on our minds and in our plans for a long time coming, and it is directly in line with our Visionary Master Plan we set forth in 2010, with the help of West 8 and WEISS/MANFREDI Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism preeminent landscape architecture and architectural design firms. When first embarking on the development of our Visionary Master Plan, we knew our desired end goal—to define a great garden of the world in the 21st century. Longwood Reimagined is a collective approach for our unmatched collection of gardens ... which requires an unmatched team of the greatest minds, from our dedicated staff to our talented design team from WEISS/MANFREDI, Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects, and Bancroft Construction Company, among the many other experts involved in this multi-year endeavor.

Longwood Reimagined will blend the historic and visionary every step of the way. In connecting our gardens together in a more cohesive way, we’ll preserve and enhance our cherished spaces … as demonstrated in this rendering of how our new restaurant and event spaces will be carved into the ridgeline facing our Main Fountain Garden. Rendering courtesy of WEISS/MANFREDI with Reed Hilderbrand for Longwood Gardens.

We have long set our sights on connecting our gardens together in a more cohesive way. Mr. du Pont deliberately situated his crystal palace, the Main Conservatory and Exhibition Hall, on a ridgeline running east to west, at the highest topographical point on the Longwood property.  We are knitting together the impetus of Longwood’s existence on the east end of the ridgeline—Peirce’s Park and Peirce’s Woods with its stand of majestic trees—by carrying forward to the west end with a new seamless allée of trees that will unify the journey and bookend Longwood’s core with open meadows and breathtaking Brandywine Valley vistas.  We have long been dedicated to sharing more of our mission and creating new unparalleled guest experiences. Our outstanding horticultural collections and their display possibilities are growing ... and we want to share more of their stories and beauty with you.   Longwood Reimagined creates wondrous new indoor and outdoor gardens, as well as preserves and enhances cherished spaces—many of which have been designed by world-renowned landscape architects—to better showcase the beauty of our collections. After all, what is beauty if it is not shared?

Longwood Gardens Founder Pierre S. du Pont pictured in the 1920s outside of the Main Conservatory. His foresight was impeccable, his dedication to this place unmatched, his love for Longwood shared by us all today.

So, what will Longwood Reimagined bring to our Gardens, your visits, and horticultural experiences? Beginning March 1, we will begin the process of transforming our Conservatory and surrounding grounds, while blending the visionary and historic every step of the way. The project is equal parts expansion and preservation; we’re creating a new garden experience that will evolve over time. Our first manifestation of this multifaceted project will be with the Orchid House restoration opening this fall, culminating with 17 acres of new garden experience completed by fall 2024. The best way to tell you about each aspect of the project is simply to show you. Let your imagination carry you away as I share what will become reality at Longwood. 

West Conservatory rendering courtesy of WEISS/MANFREDI with Reed Hilderbrand for Longwood Gardens.

A centerpiece of Longwood Reimagined—both in scale and in design—is what will become our new West Conservatory. This new 32,000-square-foot glasshouse will have, like many of Longwood’s renowned features, a close relationship with water. This architectural masterpiece whose framing is inspired by the original estate houses will seemingly float on a pool of water, its asymmetrical peaks rising up to the sky. Inside, new Mediterranean-inspired gardens will sit amid pools, canals, and low fountains, with flowering acacias to exuberant arbors with flowering vines to ancient olive trees that will serve as a refuge within the West Conservatory’s core.

Cascade Garden rendering courtesy of WEISS/MANFREDI with Reed Hilderbrand for Longwood Gardens.

When we say preservation guides this project, we mean it. We’re making history by relocating, reconstructing, and preserving our beloved Cascade Garden. As the only design in North America by acclaimed Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, this historic garden will be moved in its entirety from its current space to a new, custom-built, 3,800-square-foot glasshouse that will give the plants more room to flourish. A historic garden has never been moved as a whole and preserved in this way, and we are honored to work with a team of scholars, landscape architects, preservation experts, and the Burle Marx Landscape Design Studio to deliver this achievement. The garden’s ensemble of richly textured plants, which evokes elements of the rainforest set amid vertical rock channels, cascading water, and clear pools, will all find a new, custom-designed home. 

Bonsai Courtyard rendering courtesy of WEISS/MANFREDI with Reed Hilderbrand for Longwood Gardens.

Remember how we need to build new, more expansive spaces to better showcase our collections? Our new Bonsai Courtyard will do just that. Located beside the new West Conservatory, this outdoor gallery will be the perfect spot for our outstanding bonsai collection by allowing many more to be on display at one time. We have ambitious plans for our bonsai collection, and we can’t wait to bring you closer to this ancient horticultural art form.

Waterlily Court rendering courtesy of WEISS/MANFREDI with Reed Hilderbrand for Longwood Gardens.

Our renewed, enhanced Waterlily Court will build upon its current design by renowned landscape architect Sir Peter Shepheard, while refreshing this beloved space and its aquatic wonders. The refreshed Waterlily Court will be redefined as an outdoor room and further strengthened as a central destination, while serving as a gateway to the new West Conservatory and relocated Cascade Garden.

Orchid House rendering by Steve Fenton.

As part of the initial phase of transforming the area, our century-old Orchid House will be preserved and transformed to its originally intended gallery-like space where you’ll find yourself quite literally surrounded by more of our orchids ... many more than you probably realized we have in our collection. The Orchid House will receive a new glass roof, new and restored display cases, restored bronze windows, custom frame trellises, and more … and it will open in fall 2021, serving as the first expression of Longwood Reimagined.  

Rendering courtesy of WEISS/MANFREDI with Reed Hilderbrand for Longwood Gardens.

Speaking of the beauty of the outdoor landscape, we’ll be creating new outdoor pathways and vistas to expand and connect our Conservatory grounds from east to west. We’ll be drawing on the innate splendor of the Brandywine Valley with open meadows, a sweeping terrace, a shaded promenade, views of hundred-year-old sycamore trees, and much, much more.

Restaurant rendering courtesy of WEISS/MANFREDI with Reed Hilderbrand for Longwood Gardens.

Our founders, Pierre S. and Alice du Pont, loved to entertain at Longwood and we are continuing their tradition in the form of a new restaurant and event spaces that will be carved into the ridgeline facing the Main Fountain Garden.  You’ll be able to dine while gazing out onto our spectacular fountain displays.  Imagine dining at Versailles—that’s our vision for these new experiences. This exciting new space will feature furniture crafted from fallen Longwood trees to trellis-like ceiling vaults and architectural elements that echo the forms of the Main Fountain Garden … further unifying the garden experience.

Administration building rendering courtesy of WEISS/MANFREDI with Reed Hilderbrand for Longwood Gardens.

Our refurbished and expanded administration building will feature state-of-the-art classrooms, a new library, two virtual learning studios, and staff offices to altogether serve as a central hub for our community of staff, students, and volunteers, as well as a place of learning for all. This new building expands our reach in delivering our mission and serving our greater community.

We are thrilled, delighted, and honored to make Longwood Reimagined a reality. There are many stories, many updates, and many celebrations to share with you along the way … which we will, of course, happily do. For again, what is beauty if it is not shared?

We are grateful for your support, your excitement, and your love for Longwood. We are asking you—as Mr. Pont asked his guests in 1907—to help us plant these figurative seeds of change, of growth, of reimagination as we move ahead. We are inviting you to be here with us along the way. Longwood remains open throughout the project and continues to be a world apart, and our grand Main Conservatory and East Conservatory display spaces remain open and ready to be explored and enjoyed with each changing season. Our dedication to this place that we all hold so dear is what will propel us forward— together—to all of our even more beautiful tomorrows.

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