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
    Sun shines on a circular fountain with a brick pathway in the background leading through green garden beds

    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
    symmetrical fountain jets in front of a green backdrop of trees

    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 hanging basket is seen in the distance in a small house conservatory with green plants, metal railings, and a lamppost

    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
    sun shines through a line of trees on to a wooden bench sitting on path made of wood chips

    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 stone gazebo sits beside a small lake tucked into a forest of bright green trees

    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

  • Multiple yellow buds coming up from the ground with collars of green leaves.

    Winter-aconite

    Eranthis hyemalis

    One of the first blooms to appear in the new year, Eranthis hyemalis, has sunny yellow flowers with a sweet honey-like fragrance. Its flowers look like solitary buttercups sitting on a circle of lacey green leaves. They open wide on sunny days from late winter to early spring and thrive in the shade of deciduous trees.  They will naturalize in well-drained, fertile soil under deciduous trees.