Tag Archives: summer field trip

Nemours Mansion and Garden

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.

Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

July 20, 2012 – Winterthur, DE
(written by Chunying Ling, photographs by Josh Darfler)

Breathing with the fresh air after early morning rain, the Longwood Graduate Program first-year Fellows, with their Director, headed to another garden of the duPont family—Winterthur. Winterthur is Swiss, pronounced ‘Wina-tour’ and is located in Wilmington, Delaware and was founded by Henry Francis du Pont.

We felt so warmly welcomed at the visitor center by our special tour guides Chris Strand and Linda Eirhart. Chris, the Director of gardens and estate, has worked here for six years and Linda, the curator of plants, has worked there for 25 years. Standing at the patio of the visitor center, which is also the garden pavilion, Chris pointed at the meadow and field far away and told us that no buildings were built in that area, so visitors still can enjoy the wide and open views. From their brief introduction, we learned that Winterthur is the premier museum of American decorative arts, reflecting both early America and the du Pont family’s life there.

The garden tour started with an old greenhouse that was under construction.  Classes and workshops will be held in the spacious classroom, especially for people who love flowers and flower arranging. On the opposite side was the vegetable garden, which produces many greens and other vegetables, like tomatoes and beans. They are family gardens for both parents and children to learn how to grow vegetables. Winterthur believes that children need to experience working and harvesting and sometimes failure is good teacher through the progress of growing up.

Passing by the vegetable garden, Linda stopped by the peony garden and told us these flowers were used for cut flower production in spring. A wide selection of different colors and varieties of flower shapes in more than 600 cultivars were displayed both in the upper and lower peony garden.  Tree peonies, native to China, were a candidate for China’s National Flower, competing with Chinese plum. What is the American national flower, we asked ourselves? We started a discussion of state flowers, trees and birds. Peach blossom is the state flower of Delaware and the state tree is American holly. “Rose is the U.S. national flower,” Laurie finally got the answer from her smart phone.

Enjoying the bright greens, we walked through the Azalea Woods. The flowers were gone with spring but I still have some views with great showy colorful flowers in my mind. Azalea Woods, which looks so natural, was one of my and many other visitors’ favorite parts of Winterthur.  It is hard to believe it’s a “man-made” woods and definitely a highlight of spring must-sees. ‘’You guys should come back next spring,” Linda invited, to which we replied “We will!” Can’t wait for next spring to see them and the March Bank covered with millions of bulbs, such as winter aconites, glory-of-snows, snow-drops, changing color every week.

Turning right to Enchanted Woods, we entered another world, the Children’s  Garden, which was designed with many adorable elements, such as the mushroom mist and the bird nest that the fairy folk created as a magical landscape for children of all ages! Canopied by majestic oak trees, the Enchanted Woods has been taken over by the woodland fairies who live here.  It is transformed into a place of enchantment, mystery, and discovery. From the Tulip Tree House to the Faerie Cottage, children will find a new world to explore. Here we experienced and recalled childhood stories again as “big” children.

Moving onto to the Dove tree (Davidia involucrata), which is located near the Dorrance Gallery and the Reflecting Pool garden, is another highlight of Winterthur. It is more than 108 years old, with five main branches starting at the same stem. “Probably, it was the first one blooming in North America after being introduced here from China,” Chris told us. The white bracts surrounding the flowers create a fantastic experience to stand underneath this tree and look up into its dove or handkerchief-like flowers.

Our field trip ended with the museum tour after lunch.  During the 45 minute tour, we only saw 18 out of the total 300 rooms.  Many silver and china pieces are displayed in the living room and the kitchen.  Such fantastic wallpaper illustrated the way Henry Francis du Pont and his family used to live. More stories about their family and Winterthur will be told through the great museum seasonal tours in the future.

Winterthur, we will come back!

Chanticleer, a Pleasure Garden

August 19, 2011 – Chanticleer, PA
(written by Quill Teal-Sullivan, photographs by Nate Tschaenn)

The third destination for the First Year Fellows’ summer fieldtrip series was Chanticleer, a 35-acre estate garden along the Philadelphia mainline.  Once the home of the Rosengarten family of Philadelphia, the house and surrounding grounds became a non-profit organization with the death of Adolf Rosengarten, Jr. in 1990.  While the house is preserved to illustrate how the family may have lived during the early 1900’s, the grounds are not maintained according to historic records. In keeping with the founder’s wish, the grounds are intended to be pleasure gardens designed and kept to the standards of the talented garden staff.  Chanticleer’s vision is to be one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, while creating the intimacy and comfort of a private estate.  And this they do quite well. The moment we pulled through the gates it was as though we had fallen through a rabbit hole and landed in a world of horticultural wonder, where tranquility and sensual stimulation are perfectly balanced.

We were greeted by Bill Thomas, Chanticleer’s Executive Director, who was dressed in work boots as though just in from the dirt.  He led us to the open-air welcome pavilion, nestled in a tropical extravaganza of banana trees and elephant-ears, its roof dripping with a tangle of passionflower and Dutchman’s pipe. The pavilion was crowned with a statue of Chanticleer himself, a proud rooster who shares the namesake of the garden, and can be found perched here and there atop a fence or column.  Bill subsequently sent us out into the gardens to explore at our own pace, so that we could develop our own unique interpretations.

The gardens at Chanticleer are comprised of a series of vignettes, each with its own character, charm and mystery. Each could stand on its own, yet they are gracefully strung together by the common thread of horticultural whimsy. I found myself drawn to the Ruin Garden, which sits on the footprint of what was once an original estate house. The ruin itself is not authentic, but it certainly elicits the allure of crumbling farmhouse in the Irish countryside.  Traces of human habitation and order are combined with the wildness of nature overtaking an abandoned structure. Vines creep up the walls.  Echeveria adorns the mantle like an overgrown arrangement. A tree bends through the opening of a window. Ferns take the place of a fire in the hearth. This play between human function and nature’s prowess is a reoccurring theme at Chanticleer. But it is orchestrated with such intention and elegance, a testament to the gardener’s creativity and skill.

At lunchtime, we gathered at the terrace gardens beneath the pool pavilion for sandwiches and sweet tea with Bill Thomas and Ed Hincklen, the facilities manager and general contractor. Afterwards, they lead us on a behind-the-scenes tour of the new projects underway, so we could see first hand the incredible amount of work that goes into making such a garden so pleasurable. The first stop was Bell’s Woodland, Chanticleer’s newest addition to the gardens that exhibits flora of the native east coast forests.  A winding path throughout the woods is made from rubber mulch, an innovative new material of recycled tires, quite convincingly made to look like natural mulch but with a spring underfoot. A feature of Bell’s Woodland will be a bridge resembling an abstract fallen beach log, which, when finished, will be dripping with ferns an moss.

Chanticleer is very conscious of energy consumption and is working to be as gentle on the environment as possible.  This effort is seen in their recent solar panel installation atop the equipment garage, which produces 20% of Chanticleer’s energy needs. Ed showed us the “numbers rolling in” on the megawatt meter, a sight that makes an energy-wise facilities manager proud. The major capital project at the moment was the construction of a new greenhouse big enough to over winter a menagerie of tropical plants. The new greenhouse features radiant floor heating and all American made building materials, 98% of which are recycled. In another effort to reduce energy use, Chanticleer is minimizing turf by replacing areas with plantings of mondo grass, ferns and fescue mixes. It is clear that the staff of Chanticleer takes pride in their environmental initiatives both big and small. It is inspiring to see that innovations in environmental responsibility are approached with the same enthusiasm as innovations in horticultural display.

Our tour came to an end at the Entry Courtyard, which boasts containers planted with vegetables in the most inspired ornamental arrangements.  The elements of color, texture and form were each considered carefully in stunning compositions. We said goodbye to our generous hosts amidst urns ripe with kohlrabi and cascading cucumbers.  And away we went, the image of a crowing rooster disappearing in the distance. Each First Year Fellow dreaming of their next visit to the beautiful gardens of Chanticleer.

First year Fellows visit Tyler Arboretum

July 29, 2011 – Tyler Arboretum, PA
(written by Martin Smit, photographs by Abby Johnson and Nate Tschaenn)

With a documented history stretching back to 1681, when William Penn released the property to Thomas Minshall, the Tyler Arboretum has a rich legacy. Since 1944 when Laura Tyler donated the property to be developed as an arboretum, in memory of her husband, the Tyler Arboretum has slowly evolved and grown as an organization. With rich plant collections, notably due to the work of the Painter brothers and the first director Dr. John Wister, combined with large natural areas, Tyler has always been an inspirational setting. In the last few decades, Tyler has become focused on sharing these wonderful resources with the community. In its own words, the Tyler Arboretum wants to “stimulate stewardship and understanding of our wonderful natural world.”

The current Executive Director, Mr. Rick Colbert, welcomed First Year Fellows and discussed the Arboretum’s more recent history. It was interesting to learn about Tyler’s process of drawing up a master plan in 1996, a groundbreaking step in the field of public horticulture at the time. It was interesting to see how this document was put into practice and how, partly because of it, the organization has experienced significant growth during the last decade. Mr. Colbert also pointed out how continuous long term planning is an essential part of the Tyler Arboretum’s successful management and that the organization regularly updates the master plan. He also explained how various efforts were being put into growing the Arboretum’s endowment to ensure the organization’s future, a crucial step in these uncertain financial times.

Ms. Betsey Ney, Director of Public Programs, guided First Year Fellows through the Arboretum and pointed out how new developments are aimed at making it more accessible to visitors. Hopefully, future visitors will also be drawn into some wonderful, previously hidden, areas of the Arboretum. The Tyler Arboretum offers a diverse range of activities but is especially focused on engaging families and children. Tyler has made a concerted effort to align the educational programs for children with school curriculums, which has led to Tyler becoming an ever more popular destination for regional schools. Enhanced programming has also increased family visitation, as well as improved membership growth in recent years.

With exhibits such as playful tree houses, various quirky sculptures, the butterfly house, amazing landscapes and natural areas, it is easy to see why this Arboretum has become such a popular regional destination. With its strong institutional leadership it is sure to continue its important role in the region for the years to come.

First year Fellows visit Mt. Cuba Center

July 22, 2011 – Mt. Cuba Center, DE
(written by Sara Levin, photographs by Quill Teal-Sullivan and Martin Smit)

The First Year Longwood Graduate Fellows’ inaugural summer field trip was to the Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware.  Historically, this property was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland who transformed open farmland into the woodland gardens and wildlife landscape we find there today.  The Copelands bought the property in 1935 and started their plant collection soon thereafter.  Native plants became their great interest, which is still clear today in the garden’s mission to remain “…dedicated to the study, conservation, and appreciation of plants native to the Appalachian Piedmont region through garden display, education, and research.”  Currently, Mt. Cuba Center works to balance several contrasts: public/private, open/secluded, contemporary/ traditional, native/non-native.

As a non-profit organization, Mt. Cuba Center is in its infancy and is in the process of determining its priorities and direction of growth.  At the moment, the garden is open to the public by appointment only (with the exception of an annual Wildflower Day each spring).   This limits the foot traffic and helps preserve the plant collection.

The grounds are designed with elegance and intent.  As you move away from the main house, the gardens become wilder.  The foot paths wind through the grounds in such a way that you can never see too far ahead on your walk, adding a sense of mystery. The woodland garden was not only beautiful but on a record hot day, we found comfort in the shade of the giant tulip poplars and white pines.

As the mission states, there is a great emphasis on native plants, especially those native to the Piedmont region (a geological region stretching from New York to Alabama, just west of the Atlantic Coastal Plain).  This does not mean that you will only find native plants at Mt. Cuba Center.  History and legacy are also considered in the plant collection and some non-native plants remain as a reminder of the family that once lived on the grounds and thought highly enough to plant them.

The First Year Fellows were lucky to have Mt. Cuba Center Director Rick Lewandowski as our knowledgeable guide.  Mr. Lewandowski shared many of their exciting programs and important collections with our group.  Mt. Cuba Center does extensive plant research and is looking to expand in this area with a new plant trials research facility on its way. It is also the local authority on trilliums, not to be missed in the spring!

After an extensive tour of the grounds, the Fellows joined a few key staff members for lunch and were able to gain more insight into the workings of Mt. Cuba Center.  A return trip is slated for the fall to enjoy the changing colors and to revisit this woodland retreat.