Monthly Archives: April 2016

A Weekend with the DuPonts

I just returned from spending a delightful long weekend with friends outside of Philadelphia visiting two du Pont estates, Winterthur and Longwood Gardens. I had visited both places thirty years ago, but enjoyed returning at a different time of the year because the grounds and gardens change seasonally.

Winterthur was the boyhood home of Henry Francis du Pont (1880–1969.)  As an adult, Henry began to collect American decorative arts including architectural moldings and panelling, and to display them, he had some of the rooms in his mansion redone to display his collection. As his passion increased, additions were built on to the original portion of the house until now it is a museum with 175 period rooms with 90,000 objects that date between 1640 and 1860.

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We toured about 10 of the rooms, some were rooms that Henry and his family lived in and others that were purely showrooms. There were some rooms that Henry imported in their entirety from other historic homes including wall paper and floor boards.

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Henry, his wife, and two daughters loved to entertain and used both their home as well as the grounds for their parties.

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The landscaping on the 60 acre estate is naturalistic with lots of specimen trees and shrubs arranged as glens, meadows, and wooded areas.  Winterthur is very well known for its fabulous display of azaleas, but we were a bit too early to see it.  Just a few were beginning to bloom. We did enjoy both pink and white  dogwood and cherry trees.

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Longwood Gardens and house was the home of Pierre S. du Pont (1870 – 1954) whose passion was horticulture. During his life time, he created spectacular gardens of all sorts, a huge conservatory, and behind the scenes growing areas where plants were grown for display and research. The estate consists of 1000 acres of gardens and today has a budget of $50 million and a staff of 1,300 employees, students, and volunteers.  The house is very modest and is used as a small museum today.  The gardens, on the other hand, are spectacular!

We visited the conservatory first where there are 4600 plants in room after room, many with their own climate control. Most of the plants are changed throughout the year so they are viewed at the height of their blooming period.

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We took a tour of the greenhouses which revealed how extensive the work is behind the scenes and how much research is done to improve plant stock.  We also learned that a major concern is to prevent diseases and insects from entering the gardens.  To this end, the new plants are all propagated in the greenhouses.  And they make their own garden soil in the room pictured below.

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Now the staff is growing and preparing mums and poinsettias for fall and winter displays.

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Here is a yellow Cllivia that was developed at Longwood.

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All of the watering both in the greenhouses and in the conservatory is done by hand.  The hoses have valves that operate various water sources.

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In the conservatory, the hoses are in the floor and the controls for the water options use special keys.

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All of the maintenance in the conservatory and gardens is done at night – we saw no grounds crews at all.  And, all of the plants were in prime condition – no fading blooms or brown leaves at all!

Below is a wall garden with thousands of plants.  The corridor leads to the restrooms and in 2015 they were designated as the best public restrooms in the US.

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The highlight of the outside gardens were the tulips which were in full display!  The photos look like they are right out of a bulb catalogue!

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We finished our visit with the Italian garden that has a fountain feature.

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Longwood is a place to return to many times because the gardens and displays change all the time.  For instance, there are extensive waterlily pools that don’t open until May.  There is also a mature topiary garden, a rose garden, wisteria and peony gardens, meadows, and more.  They are currently remodeling the main fountains that are programed for a light, sound, and dancing water display.  For more information, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longwood_Gardens.

While we were in mushroom territory, we visited a mushroom display room to see how they are commercially grown.

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And for lunch I had a delicious porcini crepe!

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Our final stop was a visit to the Brandywine River Museum to view paintings by the Wyeths and other painters in the American realist tradition.

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In two weeks I am going to Sicily and expect to have lots to post then. Ciao for now.

 

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