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!