It’s that wonderful time of year when the witch hazels are blooming outdoors and the orchids are filling the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens. But there’s another special thing that happens this week each year… The Philadelphia International Flower Show! This is the 182nd year for the show, and each year it seems to get better and better. The theme for 2011 is “Springtime in Paris” and I could not be more impressed with the quality of the displays, as well as the great diversity of garden exhibits and grand scale floral designs. After I finished my duties of judging over the weekend I had a moment to walk the show floor before it was open to the public. It was remarkable the similarities the show has to Paris, France AND Longwood Gardens!
As you first enter the Philadelphia Flower Show, you are greeted by a large scale representation of the Eiffel Tower. This mammoth structure seems to stretch more than 50′ in the air. It is illuminated and there is music and fragrance filling the air. I felt very small when standing beneath it, just as I do when I stand beneath Longwood’s grand Chimes Tower! Did you know that Mr. du Pont was 19 years old when he first saw the Eiffel Tower and was later inspired to build Longwood’s tower after seeing a similar structure in France? Our tower is 61′ tall and was constructed between 1929 & 1930. The new 62 bell carillon was installed in 2001. Be sure to check Longwood’s website for the carillon concert schedule.
Another iconic image of Paris is the Arc de Triomphe, which is surrounded by the city itself. The majestic arches and grand European design stand 164′ tall… that’s just 34′ taller than the highest water-jet shooting out of the Main Fountain Garden in the center of Longwood Gardens. Mr. du Pont completed the Main Fountain Garden in the mid 1930s. The original colored lights leave guests in awe and amazement to this very day. Be sure to plan your summer around one of our spectacular Fireworks & Fountains evenings.
The shows at Longwood were inspired by the fireworks seen at the Palace of Versailles, just outside of Paris!
Speaking of Versailles, there is a great exhibit at the Flower Show that showcases a grand room in French style. There are beautiful floral arrangements, exquisite furnishings, an elaborate fireplace with mantle, and fabrics of the richest materials hanging from the windows. It’s almost like entering the Music Room at Longwood for the first time. Your eye is immediately drawn to the ornate ceiling of molded and painted plaster that was originally installed in 1923. The walls are made of walnut with silk panels and the floor is teak. We have seasonally changing displays and exhibits on view in the Music Room with an exciting new one opening in April, 2011.
The Orangery & Exhibition Hall could be considered the palace at Longwood. Mr. & Mrs. du Pont entertained guests in the Conservatory on many occasions. Parties were held on the Exhibition Hall floor and the
sound of music could be heard echoing from the grand Ballroom. As guests entered the Ballroom the pink etched glass ceiling would have sparkled in each eye that looked upon it. The parquet floor is of superior craftsmanship and the monumental organ would better than any organ they ever heard! We have just completed restoration of the 10,010 pipe Aeolian organ, which was originally installed in 1930 and still stands as the largest Aeolian organ constructed in a residential setting! We are celebrating the organ’s return by hosting concerts by world renowned performers throughout the season, but you may also hear the organ play itself on select afternoons using a computer installed during the renovation.
Longwood Gardens has history, craftsmanship and art in such great abundance we might be considered a museum of sorts. My favorite museum in Paris is the Musée du Louvre. I can’t help but be attracted to the glass pyramid that now stands in the entry of the Louvre. It’s such a contemporary structure in the midst of the incredible historical buildings that house the museum.
That concept is in practice here at Longwood with the opening of our new restroom facility complete with green wall. The curved glass roof is a distinct change from the strong lines seen in the rest of the Conservatory complex, yet it echoes the same inspiration of simplicity and beauty. Longwood’s green wall is the largest in North America. We’re currently making a few improvements so that everything sparkles when the spring peepers make their entry. Check back on March 25 when the green wall reopens and the plants are twice as lush as you might have seen before!
Speaking of green walls, there are two exhibits this year in the Flower Show that are using green walls to provide an impactful display. My favorite creates the look of a clipped allee similar to the maples in Longwood’s Main Fountain Garden or Italian Water Garden. There were at least 15 types of plants in this Flower Show exhibit.
Here at Longwood, we have almost 25 different types of plants in our green wall, mostly ferns, with so many different textures you could spend an afternoon admiring each one.
I hope you can make it to the 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show this week. I’ll be there on Friday at 12:30 pm presenting a demonstration titled “Container Gardening Secrets from Longwood Gardens.” I’d love for you to stop in and say hello. Then, plan a visit to Longwood Gardens to compare the many French-inspired features! We’re creating Flower Show “WOW” 365 days per year!