The most successful gardens are always in motion and Longwood is no exception; yet while the Gardens have evolved as an organization, the founding spirit of change, innovation, and excellence remains untouched. In 2008, Longwood embarked upon an extensive planning process to define our mission, vision, and brand, as well as short- and long-term strategies and a Visionary Master Plan, with the ultimate goal of becoming one of the world's greatest gardens.
Perhaps nothing quite embodies the history of the land and the promise of the future as Longwood’s Meadow Garden, which opened to the public in June 2014. This new garden uses principles of ecological landscape design and locally sustainable practices to help “preserve the open spaces, valleys, and woodlands surrounding the formal Gardens.” Visitors to the eighteenth-century Webb Farmhouse can explore the story of the land and those who once lived there, as well as the seasonal ecology of the Meadow as it exists today.
Additional projects have included three “tree houses” that opened to the delight of guests young and old in 2008. The outdoor East Conservatory Plaza, which opened in 2010, is a crisp, bold landform of curved turf steps; indoors, the largest Green Wall in North America houses 17 beautifully private restrooms. In 2011, Longwood turned to “green” energy, purchasing power only from hydroelectric sources and, most importantly, from an onsite, 10-acre solar field with 6,682 solar panels that generate enough electricity to reduce midday demand on the energy grid by more than 50 percent.
But the biggest project of all was rebuilding the Main Fountain Garden. Construction began in late 2014, adding 1,400 feet of new tunnels to provide access to all utilities, plumbing, and wiring; 30 geothermal wells to provide pumphouse temperature and humidity control; and 68 display and filtration pumps in four pump rooms, while the historic Pumphouse with its 1930s equipment was transformed into a permanent museum exhibit.
Legacy nozzles were retained and new robotic ones added for an array of fountain effects that also include water “cannons,” a unique basketweave, and flame jets, while new LED fixtures cast light ranging from a warm white glow to a saturated rainbow of color.
More than 68,000 hours were spent to conserve the historic stonework, while the most exciting architectural feature was a new Grotto behind the restored Loggia in the center of the Pumphouse Façade. A U-shaped linden allée (replacing the original Norway maples) and a monumental planting of boxwood make the view of the garden, which reopened in 2017, much like the original.
The future of Longwood is both bright and challenging. The staff of 1,700 employees, students, and volunteers is inspired by a redefined vision built on that conceived by Pierre S. du Pont. Facility maintenance never ceases. Energy issues are critical. Advancing excellence in garden design, horticulture, education, and the arts is paramount.
For decades Longwood Gardens has been a revered horticultural display, but recent growth of programs, attendance, budget, and accomplishments have pushed it to the forefront of American cultural institutions. What will there be to celebrate in 2106? Impossible to know, but one hopes for universal acclaim that recognizes Longwood as a garden of unparalleled ambition and diverse experiences.