Less than an hour outside of downtown Philadelphia, in the suburb of Kennett Square, is one of America’s most impressive outdoor spaces: Longwood Gardens. Open to the public almost continually since the 18th century, a walk through these gardens is not only a beautiful and peaceful way to spend the day, but it also gives you a chance to learn more about the history of the Philadelphia suburbs and Chester County.
The land that would one day become Longwood Gardens was purchased from William Penn in 1700 to be used as a farm. In 1798, twin brothers Joshua and Samuel Peirce began planting trees, and, by 1850, the land had become one of the best collections of trees in the country. Known as Peirce’s Park, the land was a popular destination for visitors. However, due to declining interest by the family, the trees came under threat of being cut down by a local lumber company. Pierre du Pont stepped in and bought the land to preserve it.
However, du Pont didn’t just preserve the land. In fact, he begun adding to it and created much of what can be seen today. When du Pont died in 1954, he left most of his fortune to the Longwood Foundation to maintain and improve the gardens. Today, more than 50 years after du Pont’s death, his gardens continue to delight visitors 365 days a year.
The gardens are located along the very busy Route 1, but is far enough from the road to provide convenience, but not distract from the peacefulness of the gardens. The garden’s visitor center is built directly into the hillside. This not only blocks the gardens from the parking area, but also serves to decrease the visual distraction of a modern visitor center against the lush gardens.
Walking through this beautiful greenhouse is a highlight of any visit to Longwood Gardens. This is especially true in the winter when the outdoor gardens might not be at their peak. Indoors, however, something is always blooming, and these beautiful gardens are a wonderful respite from the cold of winter.
While in the Conservatory, don’t miss the large pipe organ that was installed by du Pont. With over 10,000 pipes, this organ was one of the largest private pipe organs in the world when it was installed here in 1929. Visitors can walk around the organ to learn about its history and even get a glimpse into the inner workings through a window. Recitals on the organ are offered daily and are well-worth hearing.
The outdoor gardens are equally spectacular and are a great place to stroll during the day. The gardens are full of blooming plants, towering trees, flowing fountains, and even a handful of treehouses, which offer a variety of landscapes to suit any taste.
After a two-year, $90 million renovation, the Main Fountain Garden at Longwood Gardens opened again to the public in May 2017. The new fountain replaces the garden’s original fountain, and much of that original plumbing can be seen in a small museum next to the fountain.
Whether you are a big fan of botanical gardens or not, there are few more beautiful landscapes in Pennsylvania than Longwood Gardens. The gardens are open 365 days a year, but the best times to visit are either mid-April through mid-October or during the holiday season.
No matter what the season, however, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.