"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Longwood Gardens Part Two: The Conservatory

(This post is especially for Caroline and Catherine. Wish you were here.)

Well, I promised to reveal the four coolest things I had ever seen in a garden and/or conservatory, and I will. But now there are five. We went back again yesterday and found another way cool thing in the Conservatory that must be included. Hence the small delay in posting. 

Here once again is what the Conservatory looks like from one end... 

...to the other.

Inside there are many rooms, large and small, with different kinds of tropical and desert displays.  There are also outdoor sections, or courtyards within the structure. 

I was especially impressed with the perfect and unusual plant pairings. Here are two of my favorites.

OK, on to the most cool things ever, in no particular order.  First the "Green Wall."  This may look like a bank of elevators, but they are individual, domed, sky-lighted restrooms. The wall is completely covered in different kinds of ferns. It is the largest green wall in North America, and I'll bet its the healthiest.  The plants are just dripping off the walls. 

The experience of walking into this space is complete science fiction. 

Here is a tiny section that was being replaced, to give you a sense of how it's done. Individual plugs are planted into a steel framework of some magical growing medium. The link above will also take you to an article about the Green Wall, with all the facts and figures.

Cool thing #2. The Longwood Organ, housed in a grand ballroom within the Conservatory. Another complete surprise as you are wandering around immersed in plantness, and you stumble onto this!

Behind the ballroom is a hallway with huge windows looking onto all the organ pipes, 
which range from itty bitty 1/4 inch diameter metal pipes...

...to humongous wooden rectangular columns.

The pipes are separated from the ballroom by a fabric wall that vibrates in different ways as the organ is played, depending on which pipes are "blowing." The organ is played electronically several times a day in addition to scheduled live concerts and big deal organ competitions. 

Now, the coolest thing #3, floating in one of the Conservatory courtyards: 

As you can see, Victoria water lilies are immense compared to your regular run-of-the-mill water lilies floating nearby. They are different in other ways too. They have these edges that uncurl and then stand up as the pad develops, and the bottoms and sides are spiked with thorns to keep them from begin eaten. 

You can see in these pictures how they come in different colors, depending on the variety.

In the picture above, a blossom bud is just starting to open. The blossoms are always white the first night they bloom, then they close up (with little pollinating beetles trapped inside!) and open the next night, having changed to pink. (The beetles get to fly away.) Then that's the end of that blossom's short showy life.

This guy is the Victoria caretaker. We saw him there twice, wading around, pruning out the dead flowers and pads, and sharing fun facts.

The ponds in this courtyard hold several varieties of Victoria lilies as well as more standard kinds of water lilies, often mixed together.  Here are a few pictures of the regular lilies - just as beautiful if not as exotic.

OK, hang in there for the 4th cool thing.  The Orchid House. We've seen a lot of orchid displays, as I'm sure you have. But this one was so huge, and so varied, that it positively possessed me. (Oh, and the smell was glorious.) I had to go back a second day to take more pictures. Here are just a few of the more successful ones out of the gazillions I took.

And finally, the fifth cool thing that I had to add as a result of our visit yesterday: the Indoor Children's Garden. Oh boy. My inner child's dream come true. 

It was a miracle of mazes, grottoes, tunnels, spiral staircases, fountains, statues, archways, windows, balconies - all the architectural details that children love. Oh and a few plants too.

There were secret little details to discover everywhere, just at childs-eye level.

There was water to play in and with at every turn. 
Finally! Fountains the kids can just stick their body parts into! 

This was a little row of bubblers that a kid, like Rick, 
could run his hands through as he ran up and down the little ramped passage it was in.

This low arched walkway was lined with mosaics made of beautiful shells, 
again, right where you could touch them.

Fountains everywhere, of every imaginable shape and size, doing all kinds of tricks: ringing bells, overflowing, bubbling, jumping, streaming, spraying. 

This mini-grotto had the smoky dry ice effect. Above it were hanging black stalactites with a snake coiled through them. This was the darkest place in the garden. 


In my opinion this children's garden had just the right balance of scary and wondrous. Or maybe it was tilted a little to the scary side. It certainly wasn't all sweetness, light, talking animals, fairies and unicorns.  It had some tooth!

There was even a child sized mini-chapel with kid friendly chairs and stained glass window. 
(Perhaps it was intended as a safe place to hide or calm down.)

What a perfect place this whole conservatory would be for a family on a cold rainy winter day. It was a perfect day (or two) for me.  Next I hope to write a post about Winterthur, another local favorite, before we start heading west again. Tomorrow we go for some repairs to our hydraulic system, and a day visit to Lancaster, PA. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Longwood Gardens: Part One

One of the main reasons we came to the Brandywine Valley was to see these gardens, and they did not disappoint.  Like the Butchart Gardens, the place is so immense that I am going to need more than one post just to show you the highlights.

Longwood Gardens was originally the home and estate of two Quaker brothers, the Pierces, who planted a vast arboretum. At some point they were unable to keep the land and the trees were in danger of being cut. Pierre duPont bought the property, saved the trees and continued growing the arboretum and gardens around the homestead. Pierre duPont (of the duPont chemicals family) was clearly an exceptional man, with oodles of money, and something of a Renaissance man as well.  Over the years the Gardens have expanded to include the largest conservatory (greenhouse) I have ever seen, a children's garden, acres of fountains, a topiary, three home sized tree houses, immense formal flower gardens, and more.

Outside of the visitor's center were spectacular Fall annual plantings, and it took us a long time to get past those before we even got inside.  All the plants throughout the gardens look unbelievably healthy and lush. 

Once into the Visitor's Center and after seeing the short history film about Longwood, we were advised to head toward the Open Air Theater, which is a large fountain display accompanied by John Phillip Sousa music. While it's not the Bellagio, it is entertaining. A little variety in the music would make it even better. 

Pierre was really into fountains, and I believe he did much if not all the designing and engineering himself. Quite a feat considering that most of them are changing displays of heights, intensities and colored lights. 

Along the Flower Garden Walk, the colors of the perenial blossoms are arranged in a long rainbow sequence, starting with purples and very gradually moving to reds, oranges, yellows and finally whites.  Although this means that each area was basically monochromatic, there was an artful variety of sizes, shapes, textures and foliage so that the design was very effective. These were in the pink to red section.

There are three super-sized tree houses in the gardens. 
This is the Canopy Cathedral Treehouse. It looks very Nordic inside and out. 

This one is called the Birdhouse Treehouse.

Where the tree houses are relatively"tiny," the Conservatory is Worlds Fair-sized. In fact, duPont was inspired by the Worlds Fairs he attended.  This view shows only about half of the building.

I can't even begin to describe all that is in there, but I'll take a stab at it in the next post.  Let me just say that we spent a very long time in there and saw the four coolest things I have ever seen in a garden. 

But, jumping ahead, after the Conservatory we were pretty overstimulated and just headed in the general direction of the exit, missing the Idea/Trial Garden, the Children's Corner, the Hillside Garden, the Eye of Water and the Oak and Conifer Knoll. Well, we need something new to see when we come back. But we did see the Garden Railway and it was very fun.

We staggered around yet another multiplex fountain thing...

...and finally through the Topiary Garden, (viewed here from the small but fragrant Rose Garden) which I'm really glad we saw.

So, tomorrow I'll tell you about the four coolest things ever. Can't wait?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Our Last Day on Cape May and a Long Journey Through a Short State

We finished our stay on Cape May with a final tour around to places we hadn't seen yet. This included the beaches down the west side of the Cape, on the shores of Delaware Bay. Our first stop was Reeds Beach. 

Second stop was Norbury Landing, where the tide was way out, 
exposing lots of horseshoe crabs, tiny snails and acres of mud. Very sticky walking.

The fall wild flowers all around Cape May have been beautiful this week, even right on the beach. 
Lots of golden rod, sunflowers and asters.

Proceeding south along the shore we ended up at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal where we got an anticipatory look at the layout for our ferry ride with the RV tomorrow.  The ferry terminal is easy to get to, and there's plenty of space in the approach (unlike some ferry landing squeezes we had in the Pacific NW).

There is a big dredging project going on right at the mouth of the Cape May Canal. This little boat was doing something with that project, but the crew on board was doing something else entirely that looked like more fun than working.

We finished our drive back on the east shore with dinner at Fred's Tavern in Stone Harbor. To get home we took the series of causeway bridges over Nummy Island and the various bays and salt marshes. 

I think this fisherman was going for crabs. He wasn't having a lot of luck while I was there, so I couldn't say for sure what he was catching.

Just at sunset, from the top of the last and largest bridge we spotted a cluster of rickety little houses along the water and headed off through the salt marshes to find them. All the homes in the tiny community of Grassy Sound Boardwalk are built right on the salt marsh or over the water, and the only access to them is over the boardwalks, thus the name. 

Some of the houses look like they have had some beatings in recent storms, 
or are just wearing with time, but they all had a lot of personality.

The northern end of the boardwalk looks like a party place, but I didn't see a single soul while I explored around.  Just a couple of feral cats. 

So ended our visit to Cape May, except for our drive to the ferry the following morning. We thought we had plenty of time to get there, but ran into an incident of some sort on the Garden State Parkway and made some decisions to avoid the back up that didn't help our time either. But we made it to the ferry with literally about two minutes to spare. Lucky us. They put us right on with no wait. You can see the DRV tucked in (with just a few inches clearance overhead) near the middle and Ms. Subaru on the right.

It was a perfect day for a boat ride - clear and calm. The ferry takes about 1 1/2 hours, and runs from the southern tip of Cape May to the southern tip of Delaware, across the mouth of the Delaware River. 

Southern Delaware seems to be a lot of flat farm country.  Corn and soybeans, like Iowa. We drove north along the entire length of the state. Here we are on Route 1, crossing the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal on the new bridge. 

After skirting around Wilmington pretty painlessly, we arrived in Pennsylvania at the West Chester KOA on the banks of the Brandywine Creek, in the midst of the historic and scenic Brandywine Valley. 

Despite being pretty beat from a longer than usual travel day, 
 I couldn't turn in without walking down to the Brandywine. 

It's one of the prettiest settings for a campground that I've seen. It's on wooded rolling hills that lead down to the river.  The sun was just setting as I headed home for bed.

Tomorrow, we'll begin exploring the area with a visit to Longwood Gardens.