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Longwood Gardens’ Central Oasis reopens on November 22nd

Longwood Gardens announced that Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience, the most ambitious revitalisation in a century of America’s greatest center for horticultural display, will open to the public on November 22, 2024. The project, led by WEISS/MANFREDI in collaboration with Reed Hilderbrand, looks to the future of Longwood Gardens, transforming 17 acres to enhance the visitor experience and to expand opportunities for exhibitions, programs, and events.
The heart of this transformation is a 32,000-square-foot-conservatory designed by WEISS/MANFREDI as a living and breathing glass house, with walls and roofs that open and close in response to the weather, featuring gardens, pools, and fountains designed by Reed Hilderbrand. The opening will be celebrated with two weeks of festivities, including member-only preview days and special events.
Paul Redman, President and CEO of Longwood Gardens, said: “We are thrilled to welcome our guests in November for the grand opening of Longwood Reimagined, our most ambitious undertaking in our history. This marks an exciting chapter in Longwood’s continuing evolution over the past seven decades from a private estate into one of the world’s great public horticultural destinations. With WEISS/MANFREDI and Reed Hilderbrand’s inspired designs, Longwood adds important 21st century examples to one of the world’s most important collections of garden designs and glasshouses.”
Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, principals of WEISS/MANFREDI and lead designers of Longwood Reimagined, noted: “The natural beauty of Longwood inspired our commitment to create a dialogue between nature and architecture and the new conservatory is the centerpiece of a cinematic sequence of open and enclosed gardens. The relaxed geometries of the pleated conservatory roof and branching columns create tapered perspectives that link the informal geometries of the adjacent meadow with Longwood’s historic conservatories.”
Kristin Frederickson, Principal at Reed Hilderbrand shared: “We were invited to conceive of a new conservatory garden on Longwood’s renowned Crystalline Ridge, one that was not only about horticultural display but would offer the experience of a garden in its own right. Our reimagining of the Mediterranean garden under glass invites guests to explore three planted islands set on a pool of water, animated by bridges, canals, and low fountains. The design advances Longwood’s legacy of marrying horticultural excellence with dramatic expressions of water to bring experiences of wonder to their guests.
Redman added: “The West Conservatory marks the first time we have brought aquatics under glass. The pools that are the foundation of this immersive garden landscape will be filled with plants that are not only beautiful but interact beautifully with the water. The horticulture display will be lush and colorful year-round with seasonal species that add visual interest and color throughout the year, continually inspiring visitors and creating opportunities to appreciate the wealth of Mediterranean horticulture.”
Planting to Begin this Spring
Planting of the new West Conservatory garden—comprising 60 permanent plant species and a rotating selection of approximately 90 seasonal plant species—will begin this April. Reed Hilderbrand drew inspiration for this garden from the wild and cultivated landscapes of the Mediterranean ecozone, found in six regions of the world where alkaline soils predominate and water is precious. The Mediterranean garden composes drifts of tufted, low mounding plants with accents of dramatic plant forms that thrive in the characteristic hot, dry summers and cool wet winters.
The palette for this tapestry-like garden design is extensive, including iconic plants from six geographic areas with a Mediterranean climate: the Mediterranean Basin, the Cape Region of South Africa, coastal California, Central Chile, Southwestern Australia, and South Australia. Agaves (Agave), Aloes (Aloe ‘Johnson’s Hybrid’), Blueblossom (Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis ‘Yankee Point’), and the tiny pink flowers of Pink Iceplant (Oscularia deltoides) will hug the ground of the West Conservatory. A slightly taller shrub layer will add finer texture and include the evergreen shrub Leucospermum ‘Brandi Dela Cruz’; the dense Eutaxia myrtifolia, which is known for its two-toned yellow and red-brown flowers; a green shrub with yellow bracts Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ and the aromatic Prostanthera rotundifolia known for its fragrant purple flowers. Taller plants like Mediterranean Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis), Willow Wattle (Acacia salicina), and mature Bismark Palm (Bismarckia nobilis) will rise dramatically in the soaring space. Espaliered citrus and vines trained on elevated structures will evoke the Mediterranean tradition of artful plant cultivation. More than 80 baskets of the trailing succulent Baby Burro’s Tail Sedum (Sedum burrito) will hang like blue-green clouds above the main east and west entrances, drawing visitors’ eyes to the soaring supports and arched roof of the West Conservatory.
The Central Grove also begins planting this spring. Located adjacent to the revitalized Waterlily Court designed by Sir Peter Shepheard in 1989, it will serve as an entry to the new West Conservatory and relocated Cascade Garden. This space will feature 22 ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba ‘PNI 2720’ Princeton Sentry) with a carpet of Lenten-rose (Helleborus), nodding ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes cernua), and Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). The Central Grove, Waterlily Court, and 1906 restaurant, which overlooks the Main Fountain Garden, will open early to visitors on October 11.
Cascade Garden Reconstruction Underway
A key element of Longwood Reimagined is the relocation, preservation, and reconstruction of the Cascade Garden, designed by Roberto Burle Marx in 1992, into a new custom glasshouse designed by WEISS/MANFREDI. Undertaken in consultation with WEISS/MANFREDI, Reed Hilderbrand, Burle Marx Landscape Design Studio, and a panel of cultural landscape preservation experts convened by Longwood, this is the first time that a historic garden has been relocated.
“One of the highlights of my career was working with  Burle Marx in 1992 on the original creation of the Cascade Garden,” said Sharon Loving, Chief Horticulture and Facilities Officer at Longwood. “It was like watching a magician work—he transformed a not very large space in an existing conservatory into an enchanting vertical environment with 16 waterfalls flowing into clear dark pools amidst climbing vines and stunning bromeliads. Thirty years later, the garden has outgrown that space and we’ve created a new glasshouse custom designed for its needs. As part of that process, we’ve tagged, barcoded, and stored each individual stone and other elements that comprise the structure of the garden, and have continued to care for many of the plants, so we can reinstall them exactly in their new home.”
This spring, re-installation of the Burle Marx garden begins, including the resetting of hundreds of pieces of the original schist that clad planting beds and garden walls; installation of updated mechanical and fountain systems which will improve both climate control in the garden and its sustainability; and building the garden’s central path, which has been redesigned to meet Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements without impacting the original intent of the historic garden. Early this summer, many of the plants will be relocated from their temporary home back into the Cascade Garden and new plants will be added to complete the tropical rainforest experience originally conceived by Burle Marx. From its new home, the garden restates for this generation Burle Marx’s 1992 call to preserve rainforests threatened worldwide.
Conservatory Overlook and Lower Conservatory Plaza Open on May 9
The new Conservatory Terrace Overlook and Lower Conservatory Plaza will open on May 9, when Longwood’s storied Main Fountain Garden resumes performances for the summer season. The Overlook and Plaza form part of an important new east-west promenade that unites buildings and landscapes, from lush formal gardens to views over open meadows into a cohesive landscape.
A 700-foot-long promenade defined by an allée of 28 Yellowwood trees (Cladrastis kentukea), which were planted last spring, and another of 28 Elms (Ulmus davidiana var. japonica ‘Morton’) to be planted this spring, will lead visitors to the West Conservatory Plaza, revealing the stand of hundred-year-old London plane trees that frame views of the Brandywine Valley.
From the Conservatory Overlook and Lower Conservatory Plaza, guests will enjoy views of the Main Fountain Garden, which presents dramatic water displays coordinated with music and fireworks. The Conservatory Overlook also features broad stone steps for sitting and viewing the popular Fountain Performances.

Other Elements Continue to Move Forward
Other elements of the Longwood Reimagined project are continuing or nearing completion, including construction of The Grove, a new education and administration building with a state-of- the-art library and classrooms, with interior finishing work underway. The Potting Shed, which will house the Bonsai Workshop for Longwood’s notable bonsai collection, began its renovation this winter. The collection of bonsai will rotate through the new outdoor Bonsai Courtyard, designed by Reed Hilderbrand, which will create a gallery-like environment to appreciate specimens of rare Japanese tree species including kicho bonsai—Important Bonsai Masterpieces, so called because of their beauty or rarity.
2024 Fireworks & Fountains Shows
This summer Longwood’s popular Fireworks and Fountain Shows, which feature illuminated water displays choreographed to classical and popular music, resume. The first one of the season will kick off the July 4 holiday weekend with a special program dedicated to patriotic anthems. The season will close on September 28 with a program celebrating Italian classical music and opera. The full programme is available here and tickets will go on sale on April 9.

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