In the remote flood plains of South America, a giant water lily blooms, attracts pollinator beetles, produces fruit and seed, and thus carries on through time. The discovery of Victoria regia, its world-wide cultivation, and the man-made works of beauty it inspired are the subjects of a new exhibit at Longwood Gardens entitled Secrets of Victoria: Water Lily Queen.
“The patience and skill of man has borne this magnificent plant from its native home, and transplanted it in the gardens of these northern regions.” So did Reverend John L. Russell refer to the persistence of explorers and horticulturists that led to the flowering of Victoria across continents and to its first New England bloom in Salem, Massachusetts in 1853. It blossomed in the greenhouse of John Fisk Allen, who documented the event along with Russell’s words of praise in the 1854 book, Victoria Regia; or The Great Water Lily of America.
A century later, Longwood’s first water lily grower, Patrick Nutt, would search for a copy of Allen’s rare folio to add to the library’s collection. Earlier, he had relied on an 1851 work by J.E. Planchon and L. Van Houtte, La Victoria Regia, to gain knowledge of the hand-pollination techniques he used to develop Victoria ‘Longwood Hybrid’ in 1961.
You can view both these works in the Music Room through September 29, but pay particular attention to the six life-size images of Victoria that grace the walls. On display for the first time at Longwood, these illustrations by William Sharp are the unbound plates from John Fisk Allen’s Victoria Regia, and are among the first and finest examples of American chromolithography. Like the water lily itself, you can admire the art for its quiet, sensual beauty. Look more closely, and you might discern clues not only to the life cycle of the plant, but also to the processes underlying the art.
Lithography is a method of printing based on a chemical fact: oil and water don’t mix. The artist draws with a greasy crayon on a flat stone, which is then covered with a thin film of water. Ink is attracted to the greasy image, but repelled by the water that fills the non-image areas. The resulting black-and-white prints were often colored by hand.
William Sharp of Boston was among the first U.S. printers to experiment with chromolithography, which builds layers of color in a print directly from the stone, requiring a separate stone and drawing for each color of ink. Look for the corner pinholes that were used to line up, or register, the paper for each successive printing. You might also detect the roughness of the stone underlying the image.
If you had seen these plates while they were still bound, you would have noticed discoloration and foxing—a type of spotting, from mold or metallic impurities, that affects old paper-based materials exposed to humidity. To prepare Sharp’s lithographs for display, Longwood entrusted the Fisk Allen folio to the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) in Philadelphia.
Gwenanne Edwards, who is a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow at CCAHA, described the painstaking process. First the book was unbound, spine adhesive was removed with a scalpel, non-image areas were surface-cleaned with a brush and grated erasers, and the pages were washed in calcium-enriched deionized water to reduce acidity and discoloration. Then, protected by plexiglass from harsh ultraviolet rays, the prints were bleached face-down under hydroponic lights.
Further treatment included localized chemical bleaching, mending of tears and support of binding holes with wheat starch paste and mulberry paper, humidification and flattening, and the final matting and framing. But along the way, the conservators took time to stop; to assess; to see what had worked; to discover what more was needed.
Cultivation, chromolithography, conservation. All involve a certain chemistry. All were developed by trial and error, through years of study and practice, requiring “the patience and skill of man.” All were touched by the beauty and wonder of Victoria.
Posted in Exhibits, History, Horticulture Research | Tagged chromolithography, J.E. Planchon, John Fisk Allen, L. Van Houtte, Lithography, Longwood Gardens, Secrets of Victoria: Water Lily Queen, The Great Water Lily of America, Victoria Regia, William Sharp | Leave a Comment »
Gardens are always changing. While the Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre looking much as it did 500 years ago, every year, every season, and even every hour you are in a garden it is constantly in flux.
As a gardener you can either try to fight this change or work with it. In the 10 years I have been working in Peirce’s Woods I have done both. I have fought the loss of canopy by replanting young replacement trees, pruned back shrubs to prevent them from becoming too overgrown, and battled encroaching invasive weed species. At the same time I have worked with changing light levels, poor drainage, and disease pressures by modifying the shape of sweeps, and adjusting the plant palette with a “right plant-right place” philosophy.
In some areas, such as Cathedral Clearing—the main entrance to Peirce’s Woods off the Flower Garden Walk—losses of large, over-mature trees from the canopy have reduced some of our spring shade-loving ephemerals, and opened up opportunities to expand the original woodland plant palate to incorporate more sun-loving native species while we re-establish the canopy. In other areas, such as Carpinus Walk, which borders the Large Lake, small trees that were planted during the late 1990s are now shading out their shrub and ground cover companions. Many azaleas in this area have become too shaded to bloom, so I have been working to transplant them to areas with more favorable light conditions.
Overall, the shrub layer and small flowering trees in Peirce’s Woods have become very well established, and their presence helps define “room” spaces within the design.
One area that has undergone a lot of change during the last five years is the South Wood’s Edge, which was designed to have strong fall and winter interest. In 2009 the grove of severely declining hemlock trees that dominated the entrance had to be removed. This in turn required a change in the understory of shade-loving shrubs and ground covers. We established large sweeps of brilliant yellow goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’) and purple aromatic asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’), which make way for golden-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’) and red fruited winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’). This change has been very successful in creating an inviting and thriving entrance way.
One area that continues to get better every year is the Silverbell Tunnel in the area known as the Shady Retreat. The path in this area is lined with silverbell (Halesia) trees, which are being trained to arch over the walkway and form a tunnel, which is beautiful to walk beneath in the spring when they are all in full bloom, usually in mid-May.
Go Beyond this Saturday, May 4! Join me at 11:00 am, 12:30 pm, and 2:00 pm as I take you on a journey through the history, design, and management of Peirce’s Woods during our Beyond the Garden Gates Day.
Step into Peirce’s Woods through this video that shows Longwood coming to life in the spring:
And don’t miss peak bloom in Peirce’s Woods—happening now! This upcoming weekend is the perfect time to visit.
Did you know that our fine dining restaurant, 1906, updates its menu every season? Our chef and restaurant staff recently added twelve new items. Take a look behind-the-scenes to see the stringent review that the dishes undergo to make the cut!
The panel, consisting of the Terrace’s General Manager, 1906’s Restaurant Manager, 1906’s Head Chef, and the Senior VP of Food & Beverage, discuss and sample all of the new items to determine if they are seasonal and work well together.
The panel reviews the tasting menu thoroughly and makes notes on potential improvements.
For each dish the chef explains the ingredients to the group and the team discusses consistency and portion size of the dishes. After the feedback from this panel is implemented, the staff of 1906 participates in a second round of testing before the menu can be considered final.
A new black cod entrée gets some finishing touches before it’s brought out to the panel of judges in this behind-the-scenes view of the Terrace’s kitchen.
Make your reservation through Opentable and come visit us soon to taste these fresh new dishes for yourself!
Learn more about our menu selection process on our Facebook page.
Our historic orchid growing houses, normally open only to Longwood’s staff, were constructed between 1926 and 1962. Today we use these houses to grow and care for the nearly 9,000 orchids in our collection. Visit us this Saturday, March 23, 2013, for our final Beyond the Garden Gates Day of the Orchid Extravaganza season, when you’ll have the rare chance to visit these spaces in person.
This photo was taken in the 1930s by Louis Jacoby, the first orchid grower at Longwood from 1924 until his death in 1956. It pictures former employees Robert “Bob” Peterson (left), who was a gardener and custodian from 1926 to 1967, and Newton Parsons (right). At this time Longwood’s gardeners would have worn ties and white shirts buttoned at the wrists while they worked with plants and soil each day. The original photos from Louis Jacoby are stored in the Longwood Gardens Archives.
Many orchids are in bloom now in the warm climate growing house. Each of our five orchid growing houses have different temperature settings to accommodate the preferences of nearly 9,000 orchid plants.
The cool climate orchid growing house contains orchids that are native to the Andes Mountains. Miltoniopsis Eros ‘Kensington’ adds some color to this growing house.
We use our growing space efficiently and can accommodate mounted, hanging, and potted orchids. The hanging teak containers—built by Longwood’s carpenters—allow us to fill the growing houses with even more plants. We also mount orchids to bark and rocks with wire save space and mimic how they would grow in the wild. Eventually the roots take hold and the orchids fasten themselves onto their mounts without the help of wire.
All plants in the growing houses are tagged and color-coded by year. Lavender signifies plants started in 2013. In addition to their starting year color coding system, some plants also have tags to note their water requirements. When plants move to the display, black metal labels are attached to the plants noting their common and scientific names so that our guests can identify them. Once the plants are pulled from the display we sterilize and store those tags until that plant is put on display again.
Take a sneak peak of this growing house in our Beyond the Garden Gates: Orchid Extravaganza video:
Our aspiration at Longwood Gardens is to create a place where our guests can take a deep breath and leave behind the stresses of our 21st century lives. This winter at Longwood, your escape is Orchid Extravaganza—a world filled with thousands of flowering orchids.
Some may wonder why we would choose to feature these amazing curiosities of nature during the coldest months of the year. The reason is simple: orchids are the rock stars of the plant kingdom. Well, they are at least one of the rock stars. The real reason for displaying orchids this time of year is that most orchid species are in peak flower from early January through late spring. Orchids can be found in most every climate of the world, but they are particularly bountiful in the tropics where the winter season brings rain, and with it lots of orchid flowers.
People have long held a fascination with orchids. During the grand age of plant exploration in the 19th century people collected them with a maddening frenzy, because the exotic flowers were like nothing ever seen before. Even more fascinating was their unique sexuality that titillated the Victorians. It’s all in the history books. Check it out sometime.
Today, people continue to be inspired by the exotic nature of orchids almost to a fault, because their beauty is deceivingly fragile. While it is true some orchids are finicky, many are not. Our Orchid Extravaganza display features orchids like Cymbidium, Oncidium, Phalaenopsis, and Dendrobium that I would encourage the novice gardener to experiment with and try at home. If you want to be daring, I challenge you to immerse yourself into our diverse orchid collection in our Orchid House. You will see an entire range of species, both common and rare, like no other place in the world. The orchids on display in our Orchid House are hand-picked daily from our vast collection behind the scenes.
In 2013—for the first time—we invite you to go beyond our garden gates and think about the beauty that exists on the other side of our works of art. Who are the artists behind everything that we do? This year we invite you to meet and celebrate the real geniuses of Longwood Gardens. Meet our orchid grower Lee in this video that gives you a glimpse of the beauty behind the scenes:
I know that I am probably biased, but I have to say that I think that this year’s Orchid Extravaganza is the very best ever. The breathtaking orchid chandelier suspended in our Exhibition Hall was designed, fabricated, and installed by the professionals of Longwood. I wish we could expose the layers of the orchid chandelier in a cross section that would show the sheer genius of engineering, artistry, and curation that makes Longwood great. The next time you visit, don’t hesitate to ask one of us “how did you do that?” You have my promise that we will take you beyond the garden gate to share the story of Longwood’s beauty.