House & Theater District

Aerial view of house and theater gardens filled with trees, a small fountain garden, and brick house

The story of Longwood Gardens begins here.

In 1906, Pierre S. du Pont purchased a 202-acre farm and former Quaker homestead in order to save a collection of historic trees, unaware at the time that his purchase would grow to become one of the greatest display gardens in the world. Developed with the specific purpose of display, the House & Theatre Gardens District is an excellent representation of how Pierre’s passion for horticulture, design, and preservation laid the groundwork for an unparalleled garden experience, to be enjoyed by guests for many years to come. Transport yourself in the early days of Longwood, taking in views that Pierre and his family enjoyed more than a century ago, including Peirce’s Park and Peirce’s Woods.

About This District

Pierre intended to restore his newly acquired land as a space for entertaining friends—but the lavish gardens and dazzling fountains would come later. His first projects involved tending to the trees for which he’d purchased the property and restoring Peirce’s Park, a historic arboretum planted a hundred years earlier by Quaker farmers Joshua and Samuel Peirce, to its former glory. In the process, his vision for Longwood’s future took shape in a series of “firsts.” The 600-foot flower garden (what is now Flower Garden Walk), punctuated with a simple round fountain (another first!), was so beautiful the following spring that Pierre decided to host his first Longwood garden party—a tradition that would continue until 1940.

 

I have recently experienced what I would formerly have diagnosed as an attack of insanity; that is, I have purchased a small farm.
- Pierre S. du Pont

 

In 1913, following an inspiring trip to the Villa Gori in Siena, Italy, with his future wife, Alice, Pierre began construction on what would become the Open Air Theatre, complete with illuminated fountains that flanked the stage. When the fountains debuted at a 1914 garden party, the guests were delighted—as were Pierre and Alice. 

Pierre found the winters in the Brandywine Valley to be dreary, so in 1914 he began construction of his first conservatory as part of an L-shaped extension to the farmhouse. Planted with exotic tropical foliage and a marble fountain, it became Longwood’s first winter garden housed under glass. 

Gardens in this District

  • Flower Garden Walk & Compartment Gardens
    Large green plants stand tall over colorful red and orange flower beds and a square fountain

    Flower Garden Walk & Compartment Gardens

    In Pierre S. du Pont’s very first garden at Longwood, 600 feet of dazzling hues of orchestrated botanical forms will take your breath away in one of our most popular (and photographed!) gardens.

  • Open Air Theatre & Theatre Garden
    tall streams of water shoot into the air out of a fountain during a daytime fountain show

    Open Air Theatre & Theatre Garden

    Framed by a canopy of towering trees and clipped arborvitae, this Italian-style, outdoor garden theater has come alive with countless performances of every kind since its debut in 1914, and features fountain performances throughout the day.

  • Peirce-du Pont House
    A stone and brick house is seen surrounded by autumn trees of yellow and orange and a morning fog

    Peirce-du Pont House

    Step back in time for a glimpse into the lives of the du Ponts and the Peirce family at one of the oldest buildings at Longwood. Not to be missed: a Monstera deliciosa vine that’s been there since the mid-1900s.

  • Peirce’s Park
    A pathway of wood chips leads to a wooden bench among a line of large trees surrounded by fog

    Peirce’s Park

    Home to two notable allées of stately and spectacular trees, this area is where Longwood’s story begins. Enjoy woodland wildflowers and soaring tree specimens, many of which are more than 100 years old.

  • Peirce’s Woods
    A wooden bench sits beside a long road through foggy trees of yellow, green, and orange

    Peirce’s Woods

    This award-winning woodland garden, designed by W.Gary Smith, showcases mighty oaks, ashes, maples, and tulip-trees that tower over 200 species of native plants and cultivars, offering seasonal interest from spring through fall.

What’s in Bloom

  • Trifoliate-orange

    Poncirus trifoliata

    In addition to fragrant, white, spring flowers and interesting green stems and thorns, the citrus-like fruit of this thorny shrub gives it a unique interest in late summer and early autumn.  The small fruits will turn from green to orange and have a slightly sour and acidic taste.  The skin can be candied or made into marmalade. 

  • White Snakeroot

    Ageratina altissima

    Growing to a height of three to four feet, white snakeroot is a fibrously rooted, native perennial that can be found in forests, thickets, and woodland margins. This plant can take full sun to part shade and prefers moist, rich conditions. The wonderful white flowers that occur late in the season, when flowers such as these are hard to come by, make it a wonderful addition to the garden.

  • Closters of red berries with and few blue ones intermixed

    Swamp-haw

    Viburnum nudum ′Winterthur′

    A stunning native shrub cultivar, Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur,’ starts off the growing season with glossy, green foliage and clusters of creamy white flowers in June. These later give way to multi-colored berries, set against wine red foliage in the fall. For the best fruit production, plant in groups to ensure cross-pollination. Reaching about six feet tall, ‘Winterthur’ will grow in rich, wet, shady sites as well as sunny, well-drained locations, and is hardy from zone 5 to 9.

  • Rough Goldenrod

    Solidago rugosa ′Fireworks′

    Solidago rugosa is a native perennial that forms loose spreading clumps of arching, hairy stems. Growing from creeping rhizomes, the general height of this plant is six feet tall and grows in wet soils, open woodlands, thickets, old fields, bogs, and along roadsides. The conditions best for this plant are full sun with average well drained soil. The golden yellow flower heads are held in loose panicle-like arrays. Its adaptability and the fact that it is not as aggressive as other goldenrods make it a great native plant for perennial borders and gardens. 'Fireworks' was selected for its shorter growth habit and heavier flowering. When in bloom the open flowers resemble fireworks. This cultivar reaches only about three feet in height.

  • Giant Reed

    Arundo donax
  • Spiral of tiny white flowers going up

    Fragrant Ladies'-tresses

    Spiranthes odorata
  • Lion's-tail

    Leonotis leonurus
  • Hybrid Sage

    Salvia ′Wendy’s Wish′
  • Yellow petals layered on top of each other to form flowers

    Decorative Mum

    Chrysanthemum × morifolium ′Sombrero′
  • Lots of bright red flowers with yellow centers against bright green leaves

    Begonia

    Begonia × benariensis ′Red with Green Leaf′ Big®