More than a holiday at Longwood Gardens

I took my young worker buddy for a late holiday treat up to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, where one of my favorite garden's resides- Longwood Gardens. From late November to the second week of January, Longwood Gardens decorates both exterior and interior gardens from top to bottom with multi-colored lights and floral designs that make even the most seasoned designers swoon (like me). The inside greenhouses hosted huge displays of Christmas trees, poinsettia topiaries, and lush gardens with flowers in reds, greens and whites, all created by a very talented staff of local designers and landscapers. It's a show house of incredible visual beauty and scents, with the floral selection including anything from paperwhites to orchids to succulents. It truly runs the gamut, which is why I love it there so much. My favorites are always the unexpected flowers and plants that show up in the most unusual places, and this visit did not disappoint.

Take spurge, for example. It has an odd name but is sure is pretty. I saw it combined with ilex berries, white mountain lilies and cyclacmen. And it worked.

When I saw this blue spikey plectranthus I went a little crazy. I have never seen it so lush and in bloom, it was like it had taken plant steriods or was so vibrantly electric and fat. It was not mixed in with the Christmas garden displays, it sat right around the corner waiting for my camera to find it.

Another floral treasure I saw creeping out from under some Christmas cyclamens was helleborus, one of my favorite early spring flowers, especially the green ones. They were perfect sitting next to the spurge too!

As we continued walking, the smells became almost overwhelming--there were paperwhites and mountain lilies everywhere, but I kept smelling something different mixed in. I looked up, and lo and behold, I found an acacia tree with a branch of its ethereal clusters hanging low enough for me to sniff the exotic perfumed perfection.

After circling the central gardens several times (we didn't want to miss one petal), we continued on to the "Christmas Route" which took us to the Orchid House. Each time I go there, I can hardly contain my excitement. The varieties of color and flowers are astounding, as are the award winning plants that are proudly placed in front for all to gawk at. And gawk we did. It was like orchid porn.

My favorites are always the same- I love the Cattleyas and the Paphiopedilums, otherwise known as Lady's Slippers. They just jump out at me more than the other varieties. And there were plenty of both, especially the Lady's Slippers. I found this one below hidden away on a window ledge, behind some other larger plants. I thought the flower on it was perfect. Very woodland creature!

I also liked this rust colored one with the maiden hair fern in the back. The colors reminded me of red celery and parsley.

After getting dizzy from all of that intense beauty, we left to go to the Mediterranean Garden, where we encountered all sorts of flowers and plants from the Caribbean, South America, South Africa and of course, the Mediterranean. There was a Christmas tree constructed entirely of plants. There were arbors with dripping purple flowers that looked like wisteria until we got close. The vines were actually called Coral Pea, or the Happy Wanderer. It sure looked happy. I was hoping some seeds would wander into my bag.

There was also aeonium gomerense, one of my pet succulents that I found in abundance when I stayed in La Palma in the Canary Islands.

Next to the aeonium patch, I found this pretty forest lily from South Africa.

We continued on the Christmas Route which took us to the Palm House. It explained the difference between cycads and palms. Cycads are an ancient, non-flowering group of plants that are closely related to pines and other conifers. They are found in South and Central America, Mexico, the Antilles, the United States, Australia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Japan, China, Southeast Asia, India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and southern and tropical Africa. And they are spectacular when looking down at them from above.

Passing through the walkway we encountered this door covered completely in air plants, also known as Tillandsia. It was enchanting!

As we were coming to the end of the Christmas Route, we passed some eerie trees that looked very scary to the touch. I loved the bark on this Ceiba Einthos-- very Jurassic Park.

Then we spotted a few more tropical surprises, including this Chalice Vine flower. I was elated to finally discover its name. The first time I saw it was on the Canary Islands where I cut some and put on our table as a centerpiece. They start off creamy ivory and turn into a beautiful shade of butter and they last for at least a week.

The final surprise was a section of blooming aloe plants. Did you they bloomed flowers? I didn't and feel a little embarrassed to admit.

We ended our tour in the Silver Garden Room, which had the most stunning, unusual combination of flowers and plants I had seen yet, all in shades of gray and silver. It took my breath away, and I am not happy that my camera decided to poop out at this juncture. Still, I managed a few good shots and hope they at least give an idea of the magnificent concept of flowers as art. The doorway display was truly a masterpiece.

If you live on the east coast, try and visit these amazing gardens next year. If you go, try to go during the week when it's not so crowded-- the weekends are usually packed. Best times are late afternoon so you can see the beautiful Christmas trees lit up.

Longwood re-opens their gardens in the Spring starting April 1- May 22. The International Flower Spy will be there and will be sure to provide a full report on the bountiful bulbs and flowering trees. Until then, Happy New Year! Don't forget to start 'forcing' your flowering bushes, such as forsythia and quince.



Longwood Gardens said...

Thanks for the wonderful overview of the Longwood Christmas Display! You summed it up beautifully, and I'm so glad you enjoyed your visit! I agree--it's breathtaking there.

I wanted to let everyone know that Longwood is open now and throughout the winter, and they're preparing for "Orchid Extravaganza," which begins January 24. From January 24 through the end of March, the Conservatory will be filled with thousands of orchid blooms in unique and innovative designs.

Then in April, as International Flower Spy says, the gardens burst into bloom with flowering trees and spring bulbs!

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