July 27, 2012 – Nemours Mansion and Garden, DE
(written by Joshua Darfler, photographs by Laurie Metzger)
Nemours Mansion and Garden was the second stop of this summer’s du Pont family garden tour. Originally the home of Alfred I. du Pont – cousin to Pierre du Pont – and Alfred’s third wife Jessie Dew Ball, Nemours Mansion and Garden is now a breath-taking public garden surrounding a five-story, 47,000 square feet, seventy-seven-room mansion completed in 1907.
The house, originally built to impress A.I. du Pont’s second wife, is located on the family’s land in Wilmington, Delaware nearby the original black powder factory. The house was designed by Carrere and Hastings and modeled after 18th century French architecture style. The garden is situated around the house to provide incredible vistas from therein, but also to provide quite, secluded areas to stroll and play. Both the house and the garden complement each other in beauty and in boldness.
The visitor experience is nothing less then extraordinary, and steeped in the traditions of A.I. du Pont and Jessie Dew Ball’s hospitality. The First Year Longwood Graduate Fellows, along with several Second Year Fellows, were greeted by Steve Maurer, Public Relations Manager, and ushered into the modern reception center (built 2007) to watch a brief movie about the life and times of A.I. du Pont, after which we boarded a small bus to be driven to the mansion.
As the bus drove up the road the only hint of the grandeur of the garden is a beautiful historic stonewall, which surrounds and hides the garden. As the bus turned down the main entrance, and the historic iron gates opened, all on board were able to behold the beauty of Nemours for the first time. The bus drove to the main house on a road through a maple allée, hedged by boxwoods, and surrounded by beautiful mature tree specimens as far as the eye can see. We were dropped off at the mansion where we were formally welcomed and handed a carnation. Then the fellows were given a brief tour of the first floor, which was still in the style that Jessie Dew Ball left it after her death in 1970 – full of rare paintings, valuable furniture, and exquisite rugs.
Back outside we were rejoined by Steve and introduced to Richard Larkin, the staff horticulturist. Both men toured us through the magnificent gardens as they discussed the recent renovation and restoration that have occurred over the past decade. Since reopening in 2008 the garden only welcomes about 12,000 guests a year since tours are given only three times a day and have a maximum of 48 people each. This allows guests to have a much more intimate experience while touring around the gardens, at times feeling the gardens are their own.
The garden is arranged on the major axis of the house so as you stand on the porch you look straight down to the main reflecting pool, the archways, and beyond. As we strolled through the promenades and vistas, the saying “A picture is worth a sounds word” came to mind, and in this case it may be worth even more.