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Touring the Amazing Winterthur Gardens

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Winterthur Primroses
Acres of shade-loving perennials carpet the Enchanted Woods at Winterthur Museum & Gardens

Winterthur Museum & Gardens

Regular readers of this column have already heard of Longwood Gardens, the landmark DuPont estate in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. We mentioned earlier this year that we’ll be visiting Longwood this year, particularly to see the amazing landscape lighting work of artist Bruce Munro. Starting June 30th, Longwood’s acres of outdoor gardens will glow with millions of colored lights. We saw the first installation of this unforgettable light show several years ago, and we were so awestruck that we wouldn’t miss this year’s sequel..

Fewer gardeners have heard of the nearby Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Wilmington, Delaware. Like Longwood, this fantastic estate was built by the DuPont family a century ago, but Winterthur couldn’t be more different from Longwood in its garden style.

It is the spectacular gardens at Winterthur that impress us the most. Unlike the formal Longwood Gardens and conservatory, Winterthur was landscaped informally to highlight the rolling countryside and the effect is subtle but dramatic. Plants are arranged to appear as if they grew spontaneously, planted in large drifts and grouped with other plants that harmonize in color and form. Paths are curving rather than straight, following the contours of the land, passing around trees, drawing walkers into the 60-acre garden surrounded by 1000 acres of farmland.

My favorite part of Winterthur is the Enchanted Woods, sheltered by a grove of huge oaks. These historic trees have been lovingly maintained, professionally pruned all their lives so that each one is perfectly formed, with no defects or dead limbs. Beneath the trees is a carpet of perennial begonias, ferns, and hostas. Designed to entertain children, this 3-acre garden features a cutaway “Faerie Cottage” made of stone, with a thatched roof and miniature furniture, and a huge bird’s nest made of sticks and vines. An old gate plays a tune as you open it, and huge toadstools emit clouds of vapor for an eerie effect.

We first visited Winterthur to see its world-renowned collection of period furniture. The DuPont mansion is 175 rooms, each one uniquely decorated and filled with an amazing array of furnishings from around the world. DuPont was an avid collector of early American furniture and silverware, including pieces by Paul Revere. More recently, the Campbell’s Soup Company’s collection of historic soup tureens was moved to Winterthur from Campbell’s headquarters in Camden, New Jersey. This unforgettable collection includes a wide range of tureens and soup-related objects made in Europe, Asia, and America from 1720 to modern times.

Longwood Gardens and Winterthur are a short drive away from another great destination, the Wyeth Museum in Chadd’s Ford. Here, a converted stone gristmill on the banks of the Brandywine River showcases the work of Andrew Wyeth, a major American realist painter, and his talented family. The Brandywine Conservancy includes the studios of Andrew Wyeth and  his father N.C. Wyeth, illustrator of many children’s classics. Works by other contemporary artists, including Andrew’s sister Ann Wyeth McCoy and his son Jamie Wyeth, are in the Museum’s permanent collection.

Lovers of exotic plants, fine art, antiques, and beautiful landscapes could easily spend several days touring this area. It’s rich with American history dating back to the early colonial and Revolutionary War era. While we’re in the neighborhood, we’ll be visiting Winterthur, Longwood Gardens and the Brandywine Museum. Winterthur alone is worth the trip.

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.

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