Tidewater Traveler - July 2006

For the Love of Trees


George Sellers

     It is a warm spring afternoon in 1906. There is a light breeze brushing the crowns of the sugar maple trees. Dairy cows are grazing lazily in the cow lot. The daily activity of a working farm is evident. At a distance is heard the buzz of a steam-driven logging saw, where tall, straight trees are being fashioned in timbers for the construction of new homes and barns in and near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Nearby, in the local courthouse, a clerk is filing the paperwork for a land transaction. This large parcel of land is being transferred from the Pierce family to a Mr. Pierre S. duPont.
      Mr. duPont’s purchase of the land is motivated in part to preserve a large collection of beautiful and historic trees on the farm, and in doing so to provide a country location where he, with his family and friends, can go to relax from the rigors of being an industrialist. For the next one hundred years Pierre du Pont, his family, and later his endowment, work to create “one of the world’s great horticultural showplaces” at Longwood Gardens.
      One hundred years later, almost to the day, it is a warm spring afternoon in early May 2006. There is a light breeze brushing the crowns of the sugar maple trees. The dairy cows are gone; but still there, by the same name, the cow lot remains an open, grassy, pasture-like, but now well-groomed, field. I am sure the courthouse clerk is busier than ever filing land transactions because in and around Kennett Square, homes, actually entire communities, are being built at a dizzying pace; but trees from the old Pierce Farm are not the source of the lumber. The hum and zip of the logging saw is gone, making the breeze through the leaves resonate a sigh of relief.
      Today we are celebrating Mom’s ninety-third birthday. It is amazing to realize that when Mom was born, Longwood Gardens was in its infancy as a world showplace, and that many of the garden’s features existing at that time are still here today. There are many highlights of a self-guided walking tour here. We enter the park and stroll along concrete or asphalt paths with map and guidebook in hand, and pathside signs guiding us. To our right, across the path from the cow lot, stands a huge, gnarled tree. I am sure this tree has stood here long enough to monitor every modicum of the development of the park. Beneath the tree is a sign that bears its Latin botanical name. (Private note: Dear ‘Miss Bootsie,’ I wish I had given greater attention in your eighth grade Latin class at North Dorchester High School.) I know the proper names of so few flowering plants; the plant names I know are common names. The Latin botanical names are intriguing, and pique my interest to want to learn more. Fortunately, my inadequacy with nomenclature does not prevent me from enjoying the flora.
      Passing by an incredible outdoor topiary garden where evergreens have been fashioned into large geometrical forms and whimsical shapes, we make our way to the Main Conservatory. The Conservatory is a network of elaborate greenhouses surrounding a ballroom, music room, and pipe organ museum and gallery. The pipe organ is an original 1929 Aeolian Organ with over ten thousand voice pipes.
      Our stroll along stone walkways through the Main Conservatory produces a most pleasant assault on the senses. We see beds of color that defy description, greenery of every conceivable hue. There are floral shapes beyond the gallery of imagination. The blend of aromas is exhilarating. The temptation to reach out and caress textures is powerful, sometimes even overcoming Mom’s ninety-three years of self-discipline. What a beautiful tribute to the maker! And to the Maker!
      Outside the Main Conservatory, we pause on the conservatory terrace, overlooking the fountain garden to await a water performance. The water-fountain show here does not rival some of the high-tech water performances at Walt Disney World or in Las Vegas. But when one considers that the fountain demonstration at Longwood Gardens was first turned on in 1931 and the same pump system is still in use today, it is impressive.
      The afternoon continues with a long stroll through incredible outdoor flower gardens and wooded paths. Though near the end of their blooming phase, tulips are the predominant outdoor flower during this visit, producing patchwork stands of color in an awesome variety of shades and tones. The walking tour ends with a promenade along the alameda, a tree-lined pathway punctuated with vibrant patches of pansies.
      Heading back to the entrance pavilion, the squeak of the wheelchair reminds me that we have accessed almost every part of the park easily. Exceptions include a couple of rustic wooded pathways and the spiral stone steps inside the chime tower.
      For a love of trees, Pierre S. duPont set the stage one hundred years ago for a wonderful excursion today. About a two-hour drive north from mid-DelMarVa, Longwood Gardens is located along U.S. Route 1 at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Admission is about $14 for an adult. One can enjoy a good overview of Longwood Gardens in a couple of hours, but it would be easy to spend an entire day savoring the displays and relaxing.
      May all of your journeys be happy and safe!

George Sellers and his wife Priscilla are Certified Travel Counselors and Accredited Cruise Counselors who own Travel Selections by Priscilla and George, Inc. and the popular travel web site www.sellerstravel.com