A taste of TULIP FEVER
KENNETT SQUARE, PA. — I never realized how much I adore tulips until I visited a garden nearly 2,000 miles away.
Sure, I’ve grown tulips before, but not tulips like THIS. Velvety tulips, fiery tulips, tulips so frilly you’d swear they were peonies, shiny jewel-toned tulips that look like candy.
The flowerbeds at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa., converted me. Enveloped me. Mesmerized me.
Remember that part in the original “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” where Mr. Wonka introduces the golden-ticket winners to the edible landscape and the chocolate river? The children run around, gorging themselves and trying to decide which part of the garden is most delicious? Yeah, that’s pretty much how it is in the springtime at Longwood Gardens. I stuffed myself with tulip eye candy.
There’s something almost otherworldly about strolling through perfectly manicured fields of tulips. And when I say, “perfectly manicured,” I mean immaculate. Longwood Gardens upholds exceptional standards for grooming their grounds. If a white-glove test for gardens existed, they would earn a gold star.
During the whole visit, I didn’t glimpse so much as a spent petal, bent stalk or leaf out of place. Someone on the staff of approximately 70 gardeners must be assigned to remove less-than-pristine specimens.
This is no small task. These gardens boast the blooms of about 290,000 tulips, crocus, narcissus (daffodils) and aconite, according to Patricia Evans, the garden’s communication manager. They’re located primarily in the flower garden walk and the idea garden. From year to year, the flower garden walk’s design is pretty consistent, with swirls and patches of 37 different varieties of tulips (and six different types of narcissus) this year. The landscape designers keep the color palette consistent — so visitors are hit with a blast of rich purples and reds as they begin their walk and they make their way through the color scheme to the elegant white blossoms.
Every year, the gardens plan their spring bulb planting and order the bulbs directly from tulip growers in Holland. And every year, they dig up the tulips and compost the bulbs, to plant the flower garden walk with something else as the season progresses, according to Evans.
Although tulips are the highlight of Longwood Gardens’ spring display, there are many other attractions throughout the facility’s approximate 350 acres currently open to the public. The gardens, located on property formerly occupied by the Lenni Lenape Native American tribe and farmed by Quakers, measure 1,077 acres, counting the grounds housing the on-site nursery (they grow about 60 percent of their own plants on-site), the compost facilities and a wooded perimeter area.
The organization is mindful of keeping that buffer zone to preserve the peaceful garden experience. No one wants to reach the edge of an ethereal garden and glimpse a Wal-Mart sign peeking through the vines.
Miles of paths guide visitors through flowerbeds, fountains and fields, through trailing wisteria and past blooming dogwood trees. There are even 20 separate gardens located inside a glass-walled conservatory on the premises, in addition to ornate Italian water gardens, giving the garden an air of romanticism.
This gem is clearly one of the great gardens of the world, and it’s located in a prime place for garden-lovers.
“We’re kind of considered the garden capitol of the U.S.,” Evans said. “There are 30 public gardens within 30 miles of Philadelphia, so there’s a lot to see around here.”
In June, Longwood Gardens plans to reveal the rest of its 86-acre meadow garden, dedicated to highlighting native plants.
But for now, it’s all about the bulbs. Evans reports the tulips are just beginning to emerge at the gardens, and peak bloom is approximately three to four weeks away.
For information, go to longwoodgardens.com.
ON ANOTHER NOTE:
Are you interested in learning more about our native plants, sustainable landscaping and invasive weeds? Colorado State University is offering a Native Plant master program, an opportunity to learn about the fauna in our area.
The course includes fieldwork on Colorado National Monument, Grand Mesa and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The first class is April 19 and applications for the first part of the course are due immediately. You do not have to be a master gardener to apply.
For information, visit the Tri-River Extension office at 2775 U.S. Highway 50 (by the fairgrounds) or contact Susan Carter at 244-1841.