Conservatory Exteriors courtesy of Longwood Gardens - Daniel Traub

Longwood upgrade debuts in November; buy fireworks tickets now

Betsy PriceCulture, Headlines

Conservatory Exteriors courtesy of Longwood Gardens - Daniel Traub

Longwood Garden’s will formally unveil its new revitalization project t the public starting Nov. 22. although many parts will be visible throughout the year. Photo by Daniel Traub/Longwood.

Longwood Gardens has announced an early holiday present for its fans: Its $250 million revitalization project — announced in 2021 as the most ambitious of its upgrades — is expected to open to the public Nov. 22, just in time for A Longwood Christmas and its deluge of visitors.

It also started selling tickets for its popular Fireworks and Fountain Shows starting Tuesday, April 9, and — new this year — they come with designated seat numbers. The shows, which feature illuminated water displays choreographed to classical and popular music start during the July 4 holiday weekend and end Oct. 13.

Longwood changes

A former du Pont estate, Longwood has not hesitated to spend big bucks on additions to its offerings, often with a focus on better stewardship of the natural world.

It added a meadow garden in 2014, partly as a message about providing habitat for native plants, insects and animals which thrive in the nontoxic environment instead of manicured and chemically support turf.

It’s not afraid to have fun, either. The five-year, $90 million restoration of its formal fountains was the largest in the United States and draws huge crowds to its illuminated fountain shows, sometimes accompanied by fireworks in the summer.

The shows, which went on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday, often sell out, particularly the July 4 ones. The new reserved seating plan means you choose your seat when you buy a ticket, so there’s no need to haul your own chairs to the gardens and jockey for a sightline.

This year’s shows include Stars and Stripes Forever on July 3; Take Me with You: Inspired by Prince on July 20; Get Back: The Beatles on Aug. 10; Someone Like You: Artists who Inspired Adele on Sept. 1; Italian Spectacular on Sept. 28; and Spark Your Imagination on Oct. 13. Tickets are $50 to $75, plus a $3 fee each. Get them here.


Longwood’s new West Conservatory, with glass panels that can be moved according to the weather, will open in November.

Longwood Reimagined

Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience was designed to transform 17 acres to enhance the visitor experience, including s a 32,000-square-foot-conservatory designed by WEISS/MANFREDI as a living and breathing glass house, with walls and roofs that open and close in response to the weather. It will feature gardens, pools and fountains designed by Reed Hilderbrand.

The opening will be celebrated with two weeks of festivities, including member-only preview days and special events.

“This marks an exciting chapter in Longwood’s continuing evolution over the past seven decades from a private estate into one of the world’s great public horticultural destinations,” said Paul Redman, president and CEO of Longwood Gardens. With its “inspired designs, Longwood adds important 21st century examples to one of the world’s most important collections of garden designs and glasshouses.”

Spring planting

Planting of the new West Conservatory garden—60 permanent plant species and a rotating selection of about 90 seasonal plant species—will begin this month.

Reed Hilderbrand drew inspiration for this garden from the wild and cultivated landscapes of the Mediterranean ecozone, found in six regions of the world where alkaline soils predominate and water is precious.

The Mediterranean garden composes drifts of tufted, low mounding plants with accents of dramatic plant forms that thrive in the characteristic hot, dry summers and cool wet winters.

The palette for this tapestry-like garden design is extensive, including iconic plants from six geographic areas with a Mediterranean climate: the Mediterranean Basin, the Cape Region of South Africa, coastal California, Central Chile, Southwestern Australia, and South Australia.

The Central Grove also begins planting this spring. Located adjacent to the revitalized Waterlily Court designed by Sir Peter Shepheard in 1989, it will serve as an entry to the new West Conservatory and relocated Cascade Garden.

This space will feature 22 ginkgo trees with a carpet of Lenten-rose), nodding ladies’ tress and Christmas fern. The Central Grove, Waterlily Court, and 1906 restaurant, which overlooks the Main Fountain Garden, will open early to visitors on Oct. 11.

Cascade Garden Reconstruction

A key element of Longwood Reimagined is the relocation, preservation and reconstruction of the Cascade Garden, designed by Roberto Burle Marx in 1992, into a new custom glasshouse.

It’s outgrown its space and will become the first Longwood historic garden to be relocated.

“One of the highlights of my career was working with Mr. Burle Marx in 1992 on the original creation of the Cascade Garden,” said Sharon Loving, chief horticulture and facilities officer at Longwood. “It was like watching a magician work—he transformed a not very large space in an existing conservatory into an enchanting vertical environment with 16 waterfalls flowing into clear dark pools amidst climbing vines and stunning bromeliads.”

A new greenhouse has been custom designed for its needs, she said.

The relocation  requires moving  hundreds of pieces of the original schist that clad planting beds and garden walls; installation of updated mechanical and fountain systems which will improve both climate control in the garden and its sustainability; and building the garden’s central path, which has been redesigned to meet Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements without impacting the original intent of the historic garden.

From its new home, the garden restates Burle Marx’s 1992 call to preserve rainforests threatened worldwide.

 Overlook, plaza open May 9

The new Conservatory Terrace Overlook and Lower Conservatory Plaza will open on May 9, when Longwood’s Main Fountain Garden resumes performances for the summer season.

The Overlook and Plaza form part of an important new east-west promenade that unites buildings and landscapes, from lush formal gardens to views over open meadows into a cohesive landscape.

A 700-foot-long promenade defined by an allée of 28 Yellowwood trees, which were planted last spring, and another of 28 Elms to be planted this spring, will lead visitors to the West Conservatory Plaza, revealing the stand of hundred-year-old London plane trees that frame views of the Brandywine Valley.

From the Conservatory Overlook and Lower Conservatory Plaza, guests will enjoy views of the Main Fountain Garden, which presents dramatic water displays coordinated with music and fireworks. The Overlook also features broad stone steps for sitting and viewing the popular Fountain Performances.

Other Elements

Other elements of the Longwood Reimagined project are continuing or nearing completion, including construction of The Grove, a new education and administration building with a state-of-the-art library and classrooms, with interior finishing work underway.

The Potting Shed, which will house the Bonsai Workshop for Longwood’s notable bonsai collection, began its renovation this winter. The collection of bonsai will rotate through the new outdoor Bonsai Courtyard, which will create a gallery-like environment to appreciate specimens of rare Japanese tree species including kicho bonsai—Important Bonsai Masterpieces, so called because of their beauty or rarity.


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