a heavy construction area with a start of a new building in the middle and surrounded by dirt mounds and trucks

Longwood Reimagined: Beauty in the Making

By Katie Mobley, on

It’s been nearly one year since we embarked upon Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience … and what a year it’s been. Since March 2021, we have made tremendous strides in the realization of this milestone project with our progress now completely visible to our guests, from the evolving shape and form of the Conservatory area to the ‘big dig” where critical infrastructure is being placed. All of this progress is beauty, because beauty runs deep and isn’t just what’s on the surface. The complex details of Longwood Reimagined—from sweeping views of the project site that can be easily seen from vantage points in our Gardens to the make-it-all-possible mechanical systems that quite literally live underground—are intricate and far-reaching. As our Gardens continue to take shape and as our cultural landscape evolves, we are delighted to share with you a few of the many facets of this incredibly detailed project—and, as progress continues, we will be providing more frequent Longwood Reimagined updates along the way, so you can see true beauty in the making.

One of the most visible aspects of Longwood Reimagined to date is the ongoing preservation of our century-old Orchid House. Not only are we preserving this iconic space, but we’re also expanding its display capabilities, returning its layout to its original configuration. Upon its winter 2022 reopening, up to 50 percent more orchids from our collection will be on display throughout the year, proudly placed underneath a new glass roof on its existing pyramidal structural frame, and in new custom trellises that are not only beautiful but, with more display points, allow us the opportunity to showcase even more of our stunning orchids on a rotating basis. 

One of our new Orchid House display trellises awaits final installation in this mid-December 2021 photo. Photo by Hank Davis.

In the Orchid House, and for the Longwood Reimagined project as a whole, preservation—both on a large and small scale—is paramount. To further preserve this space, we’ve restored and moved our Orchid House bronze display case—first added in 1929 and then restored in 1966—to a new location within the reimagined Orchid House. In its new location, it will serve much like storefront windows, showcasing a rotating selection of our orchids. We are also restoring the interior and exterior concrete to match the existing concrete and stucco surfaces of the Conservatory, not only for aesthetic purposes but also to honor the work by John Joseph Earley; considered a pioneer in the field of decorative, exposed aggregate concrete, the Orchid House and adjacent Main Conservatory and Camellia House are one of Earley’s first major projects.

Restoring the Orchid House’s interior and exterior concrete is one of the most detailed aspects of this preservation project. Photo by Hank Davis.

Beyond our Orchid House, which we are excited to experience with you soon, other components of Longwood Reimagined are progressing as well. Our work area now includes the Conservatory Terrace, the walkway in front of the Main Conservatory, and the Lower Reception Suite, where new dining and event space is planned. In preparation, in mid-November we removed approximately 25 trees from the Conservatory Terrace and Lower Reception Suite but are looking forward to planting 63 trees in that area, including 28 yellowwood trees, 29 espaliered magnolias, and six deodar cedars. These trees will become part of the imaginative pathways and vistas that will expand and connect our Conservatory grounds, ultimately featuring more than 400 trees and 1,600 shrubs. In addition, some of the wood from the removed trees has been taken to the Challenge Program in Wilmington, Delaware to be milled by students in preparation to be used in other aspects of Longwood Reimagined.

Lower Reception Suite progress includes the removal of the retaining wall, as shown in this aerial image. Photo courtesy of Bancroft Construction Company.
As part of our preparation in closing the Lower Reception Suite, we removed the space’s sconces, which will be restored and integrated in the new design. Similar in materials to other light fixtures original to the Conservatory, the bronze and mica sconces are believed to be original to the Lower Reception Suite, which was completed in 1921. Photo by Carol Gross.

Moving from the aboveground work in the Orchid House and Lower Reception Suite areas to beneath the surface across the project site, we have completed drilling for the new geothermal well system that will accommodate the new buildings. Using the earth’s stable soil temperature, the new well system will provide cooling for the new buildings … and while that system won’t be able to be seen, it’s a thing of beauty in that it makes this whole project possible—and keeps our plant collection thriving.

We completed installation of 128 geothermal wells in November. The 315-foot-deep wells provide a passive, controlled, and comfortable way to provide balanced and tempered air for our new West Conservatory. Photo courtesy of Bancroft Construction Company.
We have also placed concrete tunnels underground to connect the new spaces, and to allow for our mechanical, electric, and plumbing systems to be easily accessible—much like the complex underground network that lives beneath our Main Fountain Garden, making the magic of our fountain performances possible. Photo courtesy of Bancroft Construction Company.
A drone shot of the Longwood Reimagined project site shows an aerial view of our current progress, including the West Conservatory footprint and beginning of its pillars. Photo provided by Bancroft Construction Company.

Progress is beautiful and—detail by detail, milestone by milestone—our progress continues. Those visiting us here in the Gardens can see that progress firsthand, while enjoying our outdoor gardens and our grand Conservatory display spaces that remain open and ready to be explored. And those who wish to delve deeper and learn more about the project can continue to stay informed via our Longwood Reimagined webpage, the Longwood blog, and social media channels, which we’ll continue to update along the way—detail by detail, milestone by milestone.  

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