The land that was once an arboretum in 1758 was always blessed. Many hands have honored and preserved it throughout its history. The property, known as the horticultural gem Longwood Gardens, was originally a hunting and fishing ground for the Lenni Lenape tribe. After Quaker farmer George Peirce purchased 400 acres from William Penn, he passed the parcel to his twin great-grandsons. It was Samuel and Joshua Peirce whose interest in nature led them to plant 15 acres of trees collected from up and down the Eastern seaboard and abroad. Finally, an entrepreneur interested in gardening, Pierre du Pont, rescued the farm, preserving the trees from the sawmill in 1906. It was du Pont’s passion that eventually set the mission for what the gardens are today.
Spread out over 1,100 acres, “Longwood Gardens is the living legacy of Pierre S. du Pont, inspiring people through excellence in garden design, horticulture, education, and the arts.”
Longwood Gardens’ most famous tradition, A Longwood Christmas, is back for the holidays with spectacular outdoor light displays that feature over 500,000 lights on 100 festively decorated trees, a miniature railway, and a stunning fountain with jets that synchronize to holiday music. Inside the 4-acre Conservatory, the jaw-dropping displays of poinsettias, paperwhites, lilies, and amaryllis (among other plants) and festive trees highlight the beauty of the season. Located 3 miles from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens is 30 miles from Philadelphia and 130 miles from New York City.
Experience Christmas Magic Inside The Conservatory
The tradition of horticultural beauty that Longwood Gardens is known for, especially around the holidays, brings visitors back year after year. The 4-acre Conservatory is divided into halls that have different themes that change from year to year. You could spend hours inside this space wandering around and smelling the incredible scent of hundreds of flowers. It is a sensory experience.
As soon as you enter the East Conservatory, you will admire the soothing silvery color pallet. Across the vast space, you will see a towering 24-foot tree lit with blue and white lights surrounded by a mountain of presents. It’s a serene scene that properly kicks off the tour. The next hall’s theme is red and gold with intertwined “poinsettia ribbons” of red and white, accented with the gentle sounds of tinkling fountains. There are four trees with white lights and red berry garland in this room, perfect next to the Music Room’s similar rose hues and nostalgic theme.
In the Music room, you will admire the stuffed stockings hung by the chimney, the 18-foot rotating tree, and sweet touches that remind you of Christmas’s past. As you will meander through the halls, you will marvel at the array of flowers and trees decorated with over 67,000 ornaments from Longwood’s expansive collection.
Thrill At The Outdoor Fountain And Illuminated Displays
Pierre du Pont was inspired by music, the arts, and Italian-style outdoor theaters. He built his own Open Air Theater in 1913, and it made its debut in 1914 at a Garden Party. It was later redesigned and expanded in 1927 to include additional fountains and a water curtain at the front of the stage. The fountains at the theater synchronize to holiday music and are illuminated in the evening. The breathtaking show runs every 15 minutes on the quarter-hour. Other displays include the Large Lake light show set to holiday music classics and the Main Fountain Garden Light Display with dancing lights mimicking the iconic illuminated fountain performances. The light shows run every five minutes from 4 to 11 p.m., and all are included with your entrance ticket.
Step Inside The Peirce-Du Pont House
The oldest building on the property, the du Pont family, used the home as a weekend residence until 1954. It was built in 1730 by Joshua Peirce and renovated with additions by Pierre du Pont when he purchased the property. One addition to the property was the Conservatory that became known as Longwood’s first winter garden.
The home borders the original arboretum founded by Samuel and Joshua in 1758. Open daily and free with admission, self-guided tours include historic photos, artifacts, home movies, and a video that details Longwood’s story from its beginnings. It is also beautifully decorated for Christmas with trees and greenery inside the home and the Conservatory.
Enjoy Live Holiday Music
What could be more enchanting than enjoying the sounds of live music while marveling at the twinkling lights? On select dates, Rob Dickenson and the Brandywine Christmas Minstrels will entertain visitors in front of Pierre du Pont’s historic home. The performances are included with your entrance ticket and occur from 5 to 8 p.m. (weather permitting).
Stop By The Garden Railway
Kids and grown-ups alike will love the Garden Railway located right off the Terrace Restaurant. For the past 20 years, Horticultural, Facilities, and Guest Services and local artisans team up to create a replica of Longwood Gardens, but in miniature form. When complete, 31 locomotives, steam, diesel, and specialty engines travel over 500 feet of track to the delight of every visitor who stops by. The elaborate display includes seasonal plants and realistic models of the iconic buildings on the property while the trains, including Thomas the Tank Engine and friends, whiz by. This display is open daily (weather permitting) and runs during the Garden’s operating hours.
Dine At 1906 Restaurant
If you want to make a special day or evening out of your visit to Longwood Garden, make a reservation at 1906. The restaurant is named after the year Pierre du Pont purchased the Peirce farm. The three-course prix fixe lunch or dinner menus have locally sourced, seasonal ingredients to ensure fresh, flavorful dishes. You must buy a timed ticket to the Gardens to make a reservation, and pre-payment via credit card is required to reserve a table.
Other dining options include the Terrace Cafe, Beer Garden, BBQ, and Pizza Station. The Cafe features ready-to-eat soups, sandwiches, and salads and a combination of indoor and outdoor spaces for self-seating. The Beer Garden has tented outdoor self-seating tables. The service windows offer various beer, wine, and soft drinks and casual fare ranging from cheesesteaks to hotdogs and pizza. There are concessions around the grounds. Visit the official site for dining information.
Stroll Through A Shimmering Tunnel Of Light
When the sun goes down, the lights around the gardens begin to twinkle. And, The Meadow Garden Tunnel Light Display lights up the night. The Tunnel is a 140-foot open-air tunnel of light whose twinkling glow warms the stark night sky. It is a glorious and interactive way to engage in a fantastic show. Follow the red line on the Christmas Light Display Route to the Meadow Garden and walk through at your own pace.
Warm Your Hands By The Fire
There are three fire pits located around the grounds and lit from 12 to 11 p.m. They are strategically placed to warm you as you spend time outside admiring the inspiring displays. They also light up the night in dramatic fashion and are marked on the map. You can find one near the Peirce-du Pont House, one in front of the Italian Water Garden, and one in front of the Main Fountain Garden Light Display. (Fire pits are on if weather permits.)
Shop For Garden-Themed Gifts
As you exit Longwood Gardens, you will notice the Gardens gift shop with unique presents for anyone on your list. There are children’s gifts and books, mugs, gardening books, clothing and accessories, Christmas ornaments, and live plants and bulbs for your own gardens. There are videos of the history of the gardens which make for a beautiful souvenir. It is really a fantastic way to end your day and bring home a remembrance of a special place.
Pro Tips For A Terrific Longwood Garden Visit
Longwood Gardens is a place where you can walk and take your time so that you can enjoy everything. There are benches and seating everywhere to take it all in. Comfortable clothes and shoes are a must, and layering for the cold with hats, gloves, and scarves is a good idea. It would take about 3 to 4 hours to see everything, including the Conservatory. Mobility devices are permitted and available for rental on a first-come, first-serve basis. Strollers are not available for rent. Parking is free, and there is no time limit to park. The lights turn on at 12:00 p.m. daily but are best seen when the sun starts to set. If you arrive later in the afternoon, you will get the best of both worlds and see the gardens during the day and the evening when the lights start to glow.