Peirce’s Woods

Please note that Peirce’s Woods will be closed all day Monday, July 15, through Thursday, July 18, for paving.

A stone gazebo sits beside a small lake tucked into a forest of bright green trees
Cultivated, Ephemeral, Serene
Best Seasons to Visit
Spring, Summer, Autumn
6 Acres

Enter the cool beauty of Peirce’s Woods, where you’ll notice a softening of sound, light, and color. Mighty oaks, ashes, maples, and tulip-trees tower above an award-winning garden, designed by W. Gary Smith, which focuses solely on native plants. Collection highlights include 200 species and cultivars of small trees, shrubs, and groundcovers, offering seasonal interest from spring through fall.

About This Garden

The central design theme is large horizontal sweeps of groundcovers, which balance the strong vertical lines of the mature tree trunks. Early spring is a magical time, when most of the woodland flowers are in bloom, including white foam-flowers (Tiarella), ‘Sherwood Purple’ creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera), and dwarf-crested iris (Iris cristata). Fragrance plays a role in this garden as well, including the claret-hued blooms of the Carolina allspice shrub (Calycanthus floridus) and many of the azaleas, for which this garden is known. In the fall, we like to think that Peirce’s Woods hosts a second spring, when goldenrods and asters bloom in time with the changing leaves. 

Peirce’s Woods continues to evolve under the leadership of our horticulturists, with meticulous maintenance of the existing displays as well as clever design shifts to account for the ever-growing canopy of our storied trees.

A Bit Of History

Peirce’s Woods, as we know it today, was carved out of a larger area once known as Peirce’s Park. The woods were then gradually designed and planted throughout the 1990s. The landscape and paths, however, were established in the late 1700s when the brothers Peirce began planting and managing their well-respected (and nationally recognized) arboretum. The handsome trees and the allure of their history inspired founder Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954) to purchase the land that we now call Longwood Gardens. 

Extending to the east from the Peirce-du Pont House, simple paths wove through the canopy and down the slope to the lakes, allowing for public enjoyment of the landscape during the Victorian era. As ownership changed hands, the arboretum and the public garden fell into decline, providing Pierre with a sizable restoration project. However, this forested section was not significantly changed as he developed Longwood. 

In the late 1950s, an ornamental understory was added to the wooded areas, with much of the planting focused on the addition of a prolific layer of rhododendrons and azaleas. In the early 1990s, famed landscape architect Sir Peter Shepheard designed new paths for improved accessibility and circulation.

Two men stand looking over a map laid out on a table
Tres Fromme, Planning and Design Specialist and W. Gary Smith, landscape architect

In 1993, landscape architect W. Gary Smith was hired to help reimagine the experience within the woods. His vision was to design a large-scale work that showcased the inherent beauty of plants native to the middle Atlantic region of the United States, the first design of its kind at Longwood or at any public garden at the time. Thousands of shrubs, groundcovers, and flowering understory trees were added en masse in deliberate patterns of texture, color, and form, transforming what was once just a forested path to the Italian Water Garden into a new destination for our visitors. 

In 1996, the Longwood team embarked upon an exciting journey to the mountains just east of the North Carolina-Tennessee border. The goal was to save a collection of native plants from an impending interstate highway project. In total, the team returned with thousands of specimens that were added to the existing beauty of the native woodland display garden of Peirce’s Woods.

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