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.
Once inside the gardens, there are several destinations worth checking out. The most impressive area, in my opinion, is the Conservatory, which features over four acres of indoor 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. Personally, I most enjoyed my time in the Italian Water Garden and the Flower Garden Walk.
The Italian Water Garden takes its inspiration from the gardens at the Villa Gamberaia near Florence, Italy. Du Pont was personally involved in the construction of this beautiful setting. The lush, green plants, the blue water, and the many beautiful fountains combine together to create one of the most memorable landscapes you’ll find in America.
The Flower Garden Walk was designed in 1907 and was the first garden to be built by du Pont. This garden is more understated than many of the others at Longwood Gardens, but has a simplistic beauty, especially when the flowers are blooming in the spring and early summer. If you are lucky enough to visit on a slow day and find yourself alone in the flower garden, there are few more peaceful places in Pennsylvania.
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.
The new Main Fountain Garden features 1,719 jets that shoot water as high as 175 feet into the air. Standard fountain shows are performed 4-5 times each day and are 12 minutes in length. These shows are set to a variety of music from classical to modern pop.
If you can, however, make sure to be at Longwood Gardens Thursday-Sunday evenings. On these nights at 9:15pm, the fountain hosts its star attraction: a 30-minute illuminated fountain show. The music used varies (it was Beatles the night I went), and is one of the most impressive fountain shows you’ll find anywhere in the country.
Watching the fountains dance, colors change, and even water topped with fire is truly an amazing site and well worth the price of admission on its own.
Make sure to snag a spot early, though, as the best spots are taken well before show time.
If you find yourself at Longwood Gardens in the evening, a meal at their 1906 Fine Dining Restaurant is an excellent choice. I was invited to eat dinner here on my last visit and was impressed with the quality of the food and the service.
Don’t miss their fantastic mushroom soup (Kennett Square is the Mushroom Capital of the World, after all) and the delicious desserts like the fanciful Flower Pot.
Those looking for other dining and refreshment options can also check out the garden’s cafe or their summer beer garden.
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.
During the spring through fall, more plants are in bloom and the outdoor fountains are on, giving visitors the full beauty of the gardens. During the holiday season, Longwood Gardens goes all out decorating the space, making for one of the most unique holiday displays you’ll find anywhere. However, if you visit outside of peak season, you are much more likely to have peace and tranquility as you stroll through the gardens.
It’s so magical that I wrote an entire article just about Christmas at Longwood Gardens.
No matter what the season, however, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
Note: My visit to Longwood Gardens was hosted by the gardens. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Hours: Open Daily.
Cost: Adults: $25, Children: $13
Address: 1001 Longwood Road