May is the perfect month to visit the Brandywine Valley and the foothills of the Poconos. Spring exudes from every crevice at the formal gardens of both Nemours and Longwood which are, in a word -exquisite. Nemours is the spectacular mansion built by Alfred DuPont on 3,000 acres in Wilmington DE. Designed in late-18th century French style, it is named after the French town that his great-great-grandfather represented in the French Estates General. The home, though inspired by the past, features thoroughly modern technology and many of Alfred’s own inventions. The gardens are positively splendid! Do take the “Long Walk” which features two elk at the top of the Vista, ( the work of French sculptor Prosper Lecourtier); and includes Japanese cryptomeria, pink flowering horse chestnuts and pin oaks. The Long Walk extends from the Mansion to the Reflecting Pool. The “Long Walk” is beautifully reflected in the one-acre pool which features more French sculpture. The grounds are truly magnificent. If you want a really good read – discover Alfred DuPont – you’ll find family problems, unhappy marriage, divorce a slight scandal and wealth beyond expectation. I found it fascinating!
Longwood Gardens was the home of another Dupont, Pierre. At the age of 36, Pierre bought the Peirce farm and began creating what would become Longwood Gardens. He followed no grand plan; rather, he built the gardens piecemeal, beginning with the 600-foot-long Flower Garden Walk in 1907. Although his later gardens would draw heavily on Italian and French forms, this garden reflected what he termed an “old-fashioned” influence, with nostalgic cottage-garden flowers, exuberant shrubs, rose-laden trellises, and even a shiny gazing ball. The scale was grand, the accessories quaint. He did the same with the house. Pierre enhanced Longwood by enlarging the original Peirce farm house, notably in 1914 when he doubled its size. The house had its share of country place amenities: a bowling alley, automatic fire doors, and counterweighted windows that lowered into the basement, and a built-in rug rolling machine – quaint at best. The attached conservatory was Longwood’s first “winter garden” and Pierre’s first experience with the aesthetics of greenhouse gardening. It would only get better.
Pierre’s other great love was fountains and you will be mesmerized by them at Longwood. Basing his Italian Water Garden on the Villa Gamberaia near Florence, but he added 600 jets of recirculating water. At the Open Air Theatre, he replaced old waterworks with 750 illuminated jets. The result of his hydraulic masterpiece is the Main Fountain Garden in front of the Conservatory: 10,000 gallons a minute shooting as high as 130 feet and illuminated in every imaginable color- wonderful! Longwood has many gardens, but a must see is the Topiary Garden and the New Rose Garden nearby. Having grown up in Philadelphia, Longwood has always been a treat to visit – its breadth and depth and color and organization will astound you. It is a wondrous place.
This lovely Interlude has it all: a day trip to Philadelphia – a patriotic adventure to where it all began AND an immersion into the world of Hershey chocolate. You’ll also spend time in the Poconos which are so lovely in May – I summered there for years as a child, and it is really special. Please check out the complete tour itinerary and make your plans to head East. This sojourn is a must for the garden lover, the historian and the chocolate addict! Breathe deeply and plan to enjoy it all.
Eadie, Interlude Blog Team
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