A landscape at Longwood Gardens featuring tall trees and rhododenrons in bloom.

What Larry Taught Me: Photographing Longwood

By Jackie Miller, on

Editor’s note: Longwood Tour Guide Supervisor Jackie Miller spent 14 months guiding photographer Larry Lederman around Longwood as he captured photographs for the new book Du Pont Gardens of the Brandywine Valley. Here, Miller details her time with Larry and what she learned about Longwood—and life—along the way.

In March of 2021 I was asked to escort photographer Larry Lederman around the Gardens while he took photos for a book about the du Pont family gardens of the Brandywine Valley. At the time, I didn’t know that working with Larry would shape the next 14 months of my life and change how I view Longwood, a place I thought I knew very well. As Longwood’s Tour Guide Supervisor, I’ve learned about the history, garden design, and plants that fill the almost 200 acres available to guests. I spend a lot of time in my office writing content, scheduling staff, and sending too many emails. Preparing for Larry’s visits and escorting him throughout the Gardens in a bouncy golf cart, in all weather, however, afforded me the time to better appreciate what’s here at Longwood—as we all should. As I enjoy the completed book, I can reflect on what I learned from him—and, now, I share that with you.

Visit the same place, multiple times, in all the seasons.

I am very familiar with guests’ seasonal favorites and places throughout the Gardens but Larry was also drawn to those less traveled. Soon I learned he had favorite areas that we returned to many times over the next 14 months so he could document them in each season. He was indefatigable, photographing multiple gardens in one day, making sure to capture the best possible photos, no matter the temperature or weather.  I found myself walking the garden in advance of his visits, hoping the roses would still be at peak bloom, or the weather and sky would cooperate to best highlight the blooming Meadow Garden. He also gave me the “bloom highlight report” of our Brandywine Valley garden friends, a reminder that we live in a spectacular garden area.

A person in a blue jacket standing on a small wooden bridge photographing trees.

I have many photos on my phone from our time together and think about the photo album I could make called “Larry was here”. Photo by Jackie Miller.

Early on in the project I learned of Larry’s appreciation for trees and sought out a few of his previous books. Mature trees seem to have a special place in his heart and is reflected in his work, so I happily included my favorite tree, a Peirce-era maple along the Meadow Boardwalk path, on one of our first outings. As we approached it on the path I said something un-sophisticated, like, “Isn’t it great?”. He stepped back, took it in for a long moment and said, “No, it is venerable. It is a venerable tree.” He then proceeded to set up his tripod to capture it, at my request.

He developed an appreciation for specific trees that we visited often. His appreciation for the mature Atlas Cedars (Cedrus atlantica) throughout the garden was obvious. We frequently took a cart path behind the Small Lake as a short cut. Driving by on the way to an area on the list for the day, or at the end of a long morning of photos, he’d ask me to stop, back up, consider the lighting, and then hop out to get another perspective of the trees. Through moments such as these, he taught me not to assume that you’ll be back, but rather recognize and capture the moment when it presents itself to you.

I’ve continued to make the effort to visit some of the out-of-the-way places at Longwood in specific seasons based on what I learned during our time together.

Slow down and really look.

The Gardens are crisscrossed with miles of trails and paths. I know them well and have favorite shortcuts and well-worn paths to and from the garden highlights. I’m one to walk quickly so I can see more of everything in a short amount of time. Standing behind Larry as he captured multiple exposures allowed me to pause for more than a few minutes and really study the magic of the garden design, the structure of trees, insect flight, or the play of light across fountains.

A person with a tripod along a paved path photographing trees in a garden.

In this shot, Larry looks enveloped by Peirce’s Woods; his photos feel immersive to me, just like this photo. Photo by Jackie Miller.

Take a better photo.

Try the angled view, balance the sky and the foreground, and never cut off the bottom of the tree in the frame!

Larry captures the broad angle across a path, as noted in his photos of our Flower Garden Walk, and selects the entire gracefulness of mature trees. He would usually avoid the obvious straight on, direct view.

It is one thing to find a beautiful view, and another to capture a portion of it through a lens. Larry is a great teacher and liked to explain his process. He even allowed me to peek in the view finder to see how he framed the vista.

The trunk of a tree with winding branches all around.

With Larry’s guidance, I took the above photo during our time together. He taught me to always include a little of the ground when photographing a tree, so the tree wouldn’t appear as if it was floating. Photo by Jackie Miller.

I’m just an iPhone photographer so I appreciated his simple equipment and approach to photography. Two cameras, each with a different lens, and one well-traveled tripod went with us everywhere. He never used lighting equipment, and instead captured each image in three different exposure times to get the best balance of light. That timing process effectively captures the depth of detail in his landscapes. He had the shutter set on a timer so silence was required to hear the beeps and click of the shutter, and that is when our conversations paused.

Gardens are cared for by people.

Larry was consistently amazed that I could contact my friends to turn on fountains, get a ride to the middle of the Meadow Garden, or request time during evening fountain show testing for him to capture photos of the illuminated fountains.

We traveled the Gardens on Tuesdays, when we are closed to Guests, but encountered Longwood Volunteers and Staff everywhere we went. He was amazed that we all waved to each other as we passed. As we stopped to admire and assess areas for a photos, Volunteers and Staff happily chatted about their specific garden areas and what made them special. They were delighted to hear their area might be included in Larry’s book. Each interaction impressed upon him the extraordinary “niceness” of the Longwood team and the cooperation that makes us all successful.

Now, months later, the book showcasing Larry’s thoughtful, beautiful photographs is available—and I’m in awe of what he has produced. Du Pont Gardens of the Brandywine Valley celebrates the du Pont family heritage of land stewardship and horticultural creativity, with chapters dedicated to five of the family’s estates open to the public, including Hagley Museum and Library; Nemours Estate; Mt. Cuba Center; Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library; and Longwood Gardens. Larry’s photographs capture the beauty and spirit of each place. While I was with him to capture only one of these amazing spaces, the lessons he taught me along the way could fill many, many books—and they’re something I’ll remember, and appreciate, for a very long time.

Editor’s note: Commemorating the landscape legacy of the du Pont family—renowned as innovative industrialists, generous philanthropists, pioneering preservationists, and collectors of American decorative arts, as well as the “first family of American horticulture”—Du Pont Gardens of the Brandywine Valley gives readers an in-depth tour of the magnificent landscapes and gardens that the family created, as well as insight into the du Pont heritage of horticulture and stewardship. With photographs by Larry Lederman, text by Marta McDowell, and foreword by Charles A. Birnbaum, the book’s individual chapters are dedicated to each garden, showcasing the exuberant fountains and horticultural displays at Longwood, the naturalized woodland at Winterthur, the Beaux-Arts elegance of Nemours, the tantalizing fragments of the Crowninshield Garden at Hagley, and the picturesque native plant gardens and scenic trails of Mt. Cuba Center.

Join us to toast the publication and enjoy a lively discussion with McDowell and Lederman during a book signing and lecture at Winterthur on October 1. A selection of photos from the book will be on display; select tickets include a signed copy of the book. Register today.

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