Longwood Gardens: A photographer’s walking tour

A trip to Longwood Gardens in early spring is always a pleasure and a good opportunity to see what the coming seasons might look like as the gardeners begin to shape the grounds.

By: Paul Marotta pmarotta@whyy.org

The Friday rains had the effect of somehow scrubbing the air so that when Saturday morning came, the sky was clear, crisp and deep blue, if a bit on the chilly side as the winds were gusting to 30 and 40 mph with temps in the low 50’s. However, a trip to Longwood Gardens in early spring is always a pleasure and a good opportunity to see what the coming seasons might look like as the gardeners begin to shape the grounds.

Longwood Gardens, located near Kennett Square, PA is one of those places that is always worth the trip whether you’re a photographer, an avid gardener, a tourist or a parent looking for a place to let the youngsters roam freely. I, being an avid photographer, made the trip on Saturday with the intent of shooting both for myself and for WHYY.

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My weapons of choice as a photographer are a Nikon D200 digital camera, outfitted with several lenses: A Zeiss Planar 50mmZF f1.4, a Nikon 20-35mm f2.8D and a wide angle Nikon 16mm f2.8D. All of this gives me the latitude to shoot close up, fairly wide, and extremely wide respectively. You could of course use pretty much any camera and lens combination in a place as rich and diverse as Longwood.

As it still fairly early in the season, most of the colors on the grounds are leaning towards middle tones: greens, browns, and grays. The fountains are not running yet, most of the varied flower beds are not blooming yet, and the Meadow is still a muddy mess with water pooling along the pathways.

However, despite all of this Longwood is as picturesque and beautiful as any place on earth and I for one found numerous opportunities to shoot.

To begin with, as it was early when I arrived, 9 a.m. is opening time—the sun was still not too high, shadows long, the sky clear, and the light warm in color. If this is when you go, and the same is also the case in late afternoon, make sure that no matter which direction you walk, that you take the time to turn around to have the sun at your back so you can see just how the landscape, trees, and grasses are being bathed in light.

The main walkway to your right after you exit the Visitor Center will have the sun in your eyes in the morning, so again, turn and look behind you. And slip into the various little pockets of seemingly endless small gardens and look at the trees and alcoves, they’re beautiful.



Just one of the various trees and alcoves

I did see too in this area one of the perennial favorite early bloomers, an entire bed of hyacinths, which, when built this way is just a riot of both color and scent.

Bed of hyacinths

As you come to the first of the three or four tree houses on the grounds, the scene will appear to be a bit drab and barren and brown… but don’t let that fool you, I found this solitary flower that had poked its head through the canopy to scream “spring has arrived!”

Longwood treehouse and a budding flower

Next, head toward the meadows. The wooden bridge too was begging to be shot with it’s warm earth tones, textures and shadows as it leads toward the enormous field. The field had pools of water from the rains the day before, but it also made for a terrific photo opportunity with its warm earth tones against the beautiful blue sky and clouds.

Wooden bridge across the meadow


Shot of the meadows at the start of spring

Also a special treat is the the Pierce du Pont house with its small display of plants and most especially the first of many guard cats you’re likely to encounter on your tour. This cat in particular stood guard at the door as I entered, and then bathed in the warmth of the sun was practically falling all over me as I tried to get some close up pics.

Guard cat


Guard cat upclose

There is another tree house along the way and in front of it a field with garden chairs where you’ll be able to rest for a bit.

Field with garden chairs

Next, one of the highlights of the visit, head into the Conservatory where you’ll find, in my humble opinion, one of the most carefully and meticulously maintained display of flowers and plants you’re likely to see anywhere, period. Hibiscuses, orchids and so many others far too numerous for a novice to go into here will keep you occupied for hours.

Exterior shot of the Conservatory


Exterior shot of the Conservatory


Conservatory flowers

Outside the Conservatory are rows of chairs where, in warmer times, you’ll be able to sit and enjoy the view, sip a cool drink, watch the children play, enjoy the water fountains or eat a sandwich. The grounds too are completely wheelchair accessible.

Row of chairs



I did manage to find a few beds resplendent with stunning arrays of early blooms, near the soon to be planted vegetable gardens and ready to blossom fruit trees, including these early tulips. Also standing watch over them was yet another overly friendly guard cat who I barely managed to keep at a distance so I could get her picture.

Early tulips


Another guard cat

As I mentioned the fountains are not on working yet, but make your way around to the Chimes Tower complete with working carillon, which indeed was sounding out in full force when I arrived.

Chimes Tower

In all, this walking tour, which I began promptly at 9am, ended pretty much at noon for me as I strolled, explored, discovered, sat and shot. If you’re at all remotely inclined as a photographer, and it would be hard not to shoot anything on a visit here, I would highly recommend a visit to Longwood. It’s interesting to see just how an enormous estate like this evolves over the course and progression of the seasons to come, and we’ll be back to visit and see much more in the coming months.

Paul Marotta is the Executive Director of Public Information for WHYY. His work can be seen on flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/paulmarotta and is also available from Getty Images.

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