In 1700, Quaker farmer George Peirce purchased 162 hectares (402 acres) of land William Penn’s commissioners. George and his sons cleared the land for farming and in 1730 his son Joshua built a brick farmhouse. The farm was passed down through the Peirce family with Joshua’s twin grandsons Samuel and Joshua inheriting it in 1798. The twins had an active interest in natural history and they began planting an arboretum on some of the land. Some plants they found in the wild, others they acquired from leading botanists and by the mid 19th century Peirce's Park had acquired a reputation for one of the best collections of trees in the US. Later heirs had no interest in the arboretum, so it began to deteriorate. In the early 20th century the farm was sold several times in quick succession. In 1906 a lumbar mill was contracted to clear trees from part of the land, and this new caught the attention of Pierre du Pont a prominent member of the family that controlled the DuPont company. He stepped in and bought the farm to preserve the trees, but he didn’t stop there. Around the Peirce Park arboretum he built Longwood Gardens. In 1907 he opened a Flower Garden Walk then he extended the Peirce house to use as his summer home and built an open air theatre. In 1921 he opened a huge conservatory then in 1927 a water garden was added followed in the 1930s by a fountain garden. By the time Pierre du Pont died in 1954, he had had set in place structures and funds to ensure the long term future of Longwood Gardens.
The house built by Joshua Peirce and enlarged by his heirs still stood in 1906 but was maybe a little small by du Pont standards. In 1914 Pierre added a new wing connected to the original the house by a conservatory. Click Tab 2 to see Conservatory in the house.
Fountain display, Main Fountain Garden
Inspired by Villa Gamberaia, near Florence in Italy Pierre du Pont decided to turn a piece of marshy ground in the gardens into a water garden. It was built between 1927 and 1929 with 600 jets in nine separate displays. By the mid 1930s du Pont had added a main fountain garden in front of the conservatory with 750 water jets and fountains up to 40 metres (130 feet) high. At night the fountains are illuminated. The Villa Gamberaia has never seen anything like this!
In 1916 Pierre du Pont decided that the garden needed an indoor facility. As a member of the du Pont dynasty, he was not going to do anything modest, his conservatory covers a total of 1.8 hectares (4.5 acres). When it opened in 1921 the conservatory required a staff of eight gardeners plus three boiler operators to keep it heated. In 1923 du Pont added a Music Room which opened on to the conservatory. The public flocked to see this huge and magnificent conservatory and it was also used by the du Pont family for entertaining on a grand scale. The Conservatory remains one of the major attractions at Longwood Gardens. Click Tab 2 to see the Exhibition Hall in the Conservatory.
Longwood Hybrid Water Platter
Longwood’s role as a botanical garden is on display in a pond behind the conservatory. In 1961 Longwood Gardens successfully crossed Victoria cruziana and Victoria amazonica from seeds collected during plant exploration trips to South America. The resultant cross is named the 'Longwood Hybrid' water-platter.
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The Topiary garden was first planted in 1936 but more plants were added in 1958, brought in from an estate in Long Island.