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The Art of the Great Gardener

By Katie Mobley, on March 24, 2021
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Behind every great garden is a great gardener telling a story through his or her design. Gardeners, like storytellers, are artists. Gardeners and storytellers both seek to inspire, to evoke emotion and thought, and to make a lasting impact through their art … they seek to better the worlds of those who experience that art. Our worlds have most certainly been made better by the work of a number of great garden designers and landscape architects, including those whose work can be experienced firsthand at Longwood, and those whose stories we’ll share during our upcoming virtual Afternoon Tea: Lessons from Great Gardeners event, courtesy of famed plantsman, author, and BBC personality Matthew Biggs and our Vice President of Engagement and Learning Sarah Masterton. 

During the April 18 Afternoon Tea: Lessons from Great Gardeners virtual event, Biggs and Masterton will—over a cup of virtual tea, of course—journey into the worlds of great gardeners who have shaped the art and science of gardens across the globe, sharing home gardening tips that can be implemented in one’s own horticulture adventures. Much of their discussion will focus on the role of art in the garden, sharing stories of great gardeners’ achievements and inspirations, from visionary landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx—creator of Longwood’s iconic and beloved Cascade Garden—to acclaimed American landscape architect Beatrix Farrand and her signature style, among other celebrated gardeners who have shaped the world of horticulture … and told fantastic stories in their own right.

Longwood Vice President of Engagement and Learning Sarah Masterton (left) and BBC personality Matthew Biggs lead the virtual Afternoon Tea: Lessons from Great Gardeners event on April 18. Longwood Vice President of Engagement and Learning Sarah Masterton (left) and BBC personality Matthew Biggs lead the virtual Afternoon Tea: Lessons from Great Gardeners event on April 18.

Biggs and Masterton will start their discussion by delving into stories about a great gardener very close to home for us at Longwood: our founder Pierre S. du Pont, his spirit of innovation, and his dedication to sharing the beauty of gardens. Influenced by the Brandywine Valley’s natural beauty, the du Pont family’s long tradition of gardening, and his frequent travels around the globe, Mr. du Pont became one of the country’s most influential gardeners … building Longwood Gardens piecemeal while drawing heavily on Italian and French forms, particularly when it came to his love of fountains and their place in garden design.

Longwood Garden Pierre S. du Pont pauses in the Rose Garden in June 1948. Photo by Gottlieb Hampfler. Longwood Garden Pierre S. du Pont pauses in the Rose Garden in June 1948. Photo by Gottlieb Hampfler.

After discussing du Pont’s vision and innovation—and sharing tips on how best to incorporate water in the home garden—Biggs and Masterton will share stories of the great 20th century Brazilian landscape architect, artist, activist, and botanist Roberto Burle Marx who created living works of art beautifully representing his passion for environmental conservation. His revered design sensibility and style are seen in his visually captivating spaces known for their multi-sensory approach of vibrant plants, moving water, and sculptural water, and here at Longwood we are beyond fortunate to serve as the home of the Cascade Garden—the only existing Burle Marx garden in North America. As part of Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience,we’re currently relocating, reconstructing, and preserving this historic garden, moving it as a whole to a new custom-built, stand-alone jewel box that allow the plants more room to continue to grow and flourish.

Longwood gardener Rolfe Smith (left), Roberto Burle Marx (center), and landscape architect Conrad Hamerman gather in the newly designed Cascade Garden in this 1992 photo. Longwood gardener Rolfe Smith (left), Roberto Burle Marx (center), and landscape architect Conrad Hamerman gather in the newly designed Cascade Garden in this 1992 photo.

After sharing stories of Burle Marx’s signature style and impact, Biggs and Masterton will travel into the world of Carl Ferris Miller, one of the first Americans to be granted South Korean citizenship and founder of the Chollipo Arboretum in Taean County, South Korea, renowned for its diverse plant collections and seed exchange program. From South Korea, Biggs and Masterton will travel back to the States, sharing tales of American landscape gardener and landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, the only founding woman member of the American Society of Landscape Architect in 1899, known for her elegant style and rich architectural detail. From there, Biggs and Masterton will finish their discussion with a focus on the work and natural garden philosophy of British horticulturist and landscape architect Gertrude Jekyll, as well as British gardener Christopher Lloyd, an early advocate of meadow gardening.   

Along the way, their conversation will in part be inspired by Biggs’ recent book Lessons from the Great Gardeners: Forty Gardening icons and What They Teach Us. A graduate of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Biggs has written more than 15 books on horticulture and related subjects, has served as a floral judge at Royal Horticultural Society Shows, has presented and directed gardening television programs, and serves as a panel member on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time. He’s also currently developing his own garden 30 miles north of London, which will feature exotic and Mediterranean borders, a mixed shrub and herbaceous border, and a kitchen garden with a collection of heritage apples. Masterton oversees the development, implementation, and coordination of Longwood’s global education programs and comes to Longwood from the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK, where she was Head of Education and Learning and responsible for the RHS Campaign for School Gardening with approximately 30,000 participating schools.

Ready to travel the world of great garden design … from the comfort of home? Join us for a cup of tea while savoring tales of horticulture’s most storied gardeners by registering for this engaging online event

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