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A feast for the eyes and inspiration file at Longwood


Last spring a trip to Pennsylvania provided inspiration that I continue to draw on now, especially on these cold winter days. I consider my visit at Chanticleer Garden to be the most influential garden tour I’ve ever taken, but just the day before I was at Longwood Gardens and it was no less inspiring. 

In my humble opinion, although these two gardens are geographically close to one another, they are very different in feel. Whereas Chanticleer felt like a kindred spirit to my own garden (although obviously much, much better), Longwood felt almost like a fantasy. Its miles of glass conservatories, which would be stunning even if they were empty, are full of the most amazing abundance of colorful plants I’ve ever seen. 

Outside of the conservatories are imposing and impressive topiaries and of course Longwood’s famous fountains. I’ll be honest, the fountains do nothing for me. I was quite happy when our study tour paused to watch a few minutes of the fountain show because it gave me a chance to pop back into the conservatory to get a better look at some of plants I’d only gotten a glimpse of.

longwood fountains
I hate to say it, but I was far more interested in those amazing boxwoods in the orangerie boxes than I was in the fountains for which Longwood is known.

With the feast-for-the-eyes plant combinations, everywhere I looked at Longwood I saw container inspiration, including along this bright border featuring thousands of ‘Canary Wings’ begonias.

longwood border

Here’s a closer look.

I haven’t grown anything in a hanging basket for about a decade but this could change a person’s mind. These enormous—I mean enormous—baskets were planted with Streptocarpus ‘Concord Blue’. Those ivy-covered columns aren’t so shabby either.

hanging baskets

I don’t think I ever would have dreamed up a combination like this, but it’s all genius, especially that grass, which may be ‘Toffee Twist’ carex or something similar.

hot border

I wish I had a better photo of this next combination (so many of these photos were snapped during a work day presentation, so I felt like I was running by them). What I love about this is that it is so good and so full of color, but there is only one flower in it, a frilly petunia. Stromanthe triostar, Plectranthus ‘Silver Shield’ and a heuchera provide most of the color here. 

tropical foliage

The importance of water in the display was not to overlooked. Here, huge hanging baskets of ‘Canary Wings’ begonias float over a flooded floor with planters full of tree ferns. It was sublime.

I was completely charmed with this fountain wall. So much so that I may or may not have jumped over a barrier where they were setting up for an event to grab this photo.

fountain wall

longwood fountain

Longwood has a famous water lily collection, but I favored this pool of more moderate sized plants and a few other plants mixed in.

water lily

Before I take you outside, there are a couple plants I took note of. This lemon geranium was stunning, with the tiniest leaves I’ve ever seen on a scented geranium. I’ve found other scented geraniums that claim to be lemon, but they don’t look like this one. If you’ve seen this somewhere, let me know, because I want it!

lemon scented geranium

This orchid! I mean, my gosh it is just unbelievable. This is Promenaea crawshayana ‘Longwood’s Gilded Globe’. 


This view of what I think are ivy-covered columns is like a sneak peek at Utopia. 

I can’t quite remember the circumstances behind this photo, but I think it may have been in a dry garden. I remember it being insanely hot in here, but I loved this very natural planting with the structure of that empty urn in the middle. 

dry garden

Longwood’s green wall is well known and you can see why. I could have studied this for hours. Talk about a lesson in texture.

green wall


I loved the restraint in this garden backed by a hedge. Just nepeta and irises.

simple planting

I’m pretty sure this is what Eden looks like. And keep in mind, this was early in the season. Just imagine how this might look with a month or two more growth on it. And those banana trees make me positively jealous.

paradise pool

This was a master class in grouping containers.

pot cluster

This is the exact moment I decided I liked Celosia. This is ‘Flamingo Feather’.

celosia flamingo feather

And of course I fell in love with this clematis draped on this stone wall. That’s heaven right there, folks.

clematis on wall

Longwood was not a garden that I could look at a section of and aspire to have it in my own garden. I’m not sure it’s meant to be that kind of garden. To me, Longwood is meant to inspire, not meant to replicate. It was awe-inspiring and so many pieces of it sparked so many ideas. 

11 Responses

  1. Thank you for the garden tour post – it feeds my soul ! Just lovely photos. Throughout the summer garden bloggers do so many garden tour posts I can barely keep up reading them but in winter we are starved for these!!

  2. Beautiful tour! Visited Longwood with my mom several years ago. Your images brought back happy memories of the awe we shared as we explored. Thank you!

  3. Such happy memories! We always had a membership when we lived in Lancaster, PA, and I think it was our kids’ favorite place to visit. Mine too. I am happy where I am, but wish I could still go to Longwood for the day!!

  4. I visited both Longwood and Chanticleer last summer, as well as Winterthur. I got inspiration from all three. In fact, I’ve ordered some of the annuals I saw at Longwood, that hot pink coleus, gomphrena and profusion zinnia combo. Can’t wait to try it in my front beds!

  5. Thanks for the tour through your eyes. I might never get to visit this wonderful garden but now Ive seen a bit of it from your view. Just lovely and inspiring.

  6. Those are some of the best and most inspiring images of Longwood I’ve seen. Usually people concentrate on the fountains and huge spaces. There were a lot of great plants and ideas here. The Nepeta/Iris combo was perfect and a nice breather from the drama.

  7. I have that lemon scented geranium. I got it from Mulberry Creek Herbfarm. They no longer do mail order.
    They call it ‘fingerbowl’. Pelargonium crispum ‘Minor’

    1. Oh I once had Crispum and I loved it! Being a fancy leaf
      Pelargonium collector.. my favorite is “Crocodile” but haven’t seen it on the market for years!

  8. Longwood is just so pretty. I have gone there for over 40 years with notebook and camera to capture the beauty and then try to plant something at home that looks so lovely. We sold our house with the gorgeous yard a few years ago. We hauled so much manure, spread so much compost, planted so many plants and spent so much time tending the garden. We are now working on a yard in a new house…but it is not the same as an old established garden. And we don’t have 40 years and our energy is not like it used to be.! It is still fun, and we love the results so we plug along. Keep daydreaming and woking hard to create the gardens of your dreams!

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