It was our 22nd Wedding Anniversary last week and – as our children happened to be gallivanting with their grandparent for a few days – we could celebrate the occasion as a couple. Unfortunately, I was still recovering from my oral surgery – a complication having caused me two weeks of excruciating and ceaseless neuralgic pain – which slightly put the damper on things and certainly reduced my ability to enjoy a meal out on the actual day. However, eight days into my recovery, I felt well enough to venture out for the evening. We opted for a visit to Longwood Gardens, having never been before and knowing that our children might not have the required patience for a visit to formal gardens.
Longwood Gardens developed from a site that had been farmed and turned into an arboretum in the 18th Century. When, at the dawn of the 20th Century, the trees of the arboretum were at risk from being chopped down for lumber, the super-wealthy businessman Pierre du Pont stepped in to save the trees by purchasing the entire property. The site then developed into the formal gardens that exist today. It is spread across over a thousand acres so there is a massive amount to see – too much for us as it turned out.
I am not much of a gardener at all and my knowledge of flowers, plants and trees is pretty limited. However, I can appreciate the aesthetic qualities of plants and I certainly like garden features, such as fountains and sculptures. I, therefore, thoroughly enjoyed wandering along the pathways at Longwood and seeing what vistas and colours opened up before me. Visiting in the evening not only meant we were spared the worst of the day’s baking heat and gross humidity but were also bathed in a golden light as the sun started to slip lower.
We stopped to watch the fountains in action as music played. It was all very pleasing and relaxing. We had visited the pump room and were amazed by all the power involved in working the fountains but, as we watched water shoot up into the sky and dance and spray from so many fountains at once, we understood why that power was required.
Apparently Longwood’s main conservatory is one of the world’s largest greenhouses. I would certainly estimate it to be the largest I have ever visited. It was arranged into a series of spaces that each focused on a theme. Although we had no kids with us, Mr Pict and I wandered around the children’s indoor garden and found it to be charming. Younger visitors seemed to be delighted by all of the wonderful details and fun little nooks and crannies. We explored the main conservatory – including the ballroom and organ – and also enjoyed the other conservatories and the lily pond, complete with giant lily pads, between them. I loved the gallery of orchids and Mr Pict loved all the banana plants. The whole place was supremely polished and thoughtful in its detailing. It was a feast for the eyes and the nose.
We realised too late that we should have saved the conservatories for last since they had interior lighting while the exterior gardens had, during our time indoors, been plunged into darkness. We still had a good wander in the dark. There was actually something pretty magical about being at the Italian gardens and seeing all the fireflies glowing as they flew up from the grass and into the air. We also saw bats swooping down to chomp on the insects that were hovering above the ponds. Some areas, however, were just too dark to permit any exploration so we had to abandon those. However, an advantage of having found ourselves in Longwood Gardens in the pitch darkness was that we could watch the performance of water, lighting, and music back at the main fountains. The theme of the show happened to be “movies” which was completely perfect for Mr Pict and me since we are such movie nerds. The whole show was amazingly accomplished and very impressive. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Unfortunately, my pain meds had completely worn off about halfway through the show and I was so close to passing out from the pain that I had to sit on the gravel behind rows of standing spectators so missed the last quarter of the event.
Mr Pict and I both agreed that we would love to return to Longwood Gardens some time, maybe another summer trip to take in the things we missed, maybe during one of their festivals, maybe in a different season to see it in a different context. We might even take the kids some time.