I had a chance to go to Pennsylvania to visit Longwood Gardens at the end of October. This extensive property was originally purchased by William Penn in 1700. Subsequent owners have transformed it into one of the most important botanical gardens of the world. The most impressive feature of the garden has to be the conservatory of 20 garden rooms and 5,500 plants which graces the 1,050 acres land stretching as far as the eye can see and as nostalgic as your heart feels on a cloudy day. On the day that I was there, the conservatory was adorned by chrysanthemums of all species. Some were trained to bloom in an umbrella frame where each opening sported a flower. This “Thousand Bloom” training technique takes 15 to 18 months to achieve the dome shaped chrysanthemum showing off its 991 blooms in unison – the largest Thousand Bloom chrysanthemum in America!
There are many fountains and shallow ponds within the conservatory – each with its own distinct foliage encircling it. The Orangerie has its exhibit of Thousand Blooms while the Exhibition Hall sports a large reflecting pool that will make anyone envious of any caretaker allowed to walk into that pool, to be surrounded by a myriad of criss crossing framework above and interlacing blooms and plants all around. The special exhibit was perfume and fragrance. There was a little desk where you can mix your own perfume which is quite fun. My true test came through when I picked jasmine, musk and citrus as my favorite combination only to find out later that my once preferred Kenzo’s Parfum d’Ete contains jasmine and musk. There was also a display of beautiful perfume bottles ranging from exquisite Art Deco Lalique’s to classics such as Shalimar and Chanel to more modern ones such as Jean Paul Gaultier’s female bust bottle. The conservatory lets us meander in and out of its courts and I happened to walk out onto the water lily ponds and marveled at the beauty of the large floating water platters with the occasional blooms. The zen of a lotus pond is in the effortlessness of the leaves and the purity of the lotus petals. Nothing could seem more tranquil. One of the excitements for me in walking through the conservatory was seeing the combination of plants and their artful juxtapositions. One can definitely appreciate the intent of a good landscape designer when he or she “painted with plants”. Of course, no self respecting conservatory would do without an orchid room. The orchids are perfect, the varieties abundant and the visitors entranced. Outside the conservatory is the fountain garden designed in a classical plan. One can see the intent of the garden and enjoy the generosity of space it offers. Sometimes a large lawn does invite lingering. The topiary garden nearby is whimsical with its bird, fish and fun shape motifs. Nature molded by human hands does take on more character when imbued with wit and humor.
On the way out, I glanced back and captured the bridge with the fall foliage framing it. I congratulated its landscape architect and came home content to have witnessed such perfect symbiosis between nature and the human mind. If only we work that way everywhere else…
Photos: Orchid House photo via tripadvisor.com, Topiary photo via longwoodgardens.org, others by author.