The Number One Public Garden in America
Longwood Gardens was recently named the number one public garden in America in 10Best.com’s Reader’s Choice poll.
Longwood Gardens encompasses 1,077 acres featuring 20 indoor gardens, 20 outdoor gardens, meadows, and woodlands showcasing more than 11,000 types of plants. Their seasonal displays elevate the art of horticulture, spotlighting unusual but also ordinary plants, all grown to extraordinary effect. The grand 4-acre Conservatory, which debuted in 1921, is the cornerstone of the garden experience. A vast array of plants from around the world is artistically displayed in ever-changing combinations throughout the year.
What most attracted me to Longwood Gardens was not just their beauty, but their accessibility for the aging photographer. If you are a visitor with disabilities, or even if you think you might tire from walking the miles of Garden paths, Longwood can accommodate you.
It takes about 1½ hours to walk the entire 20-room Conservatory, which covers ½ mile. To walk the 20 outdoor gardens (2¼-3¼ miles) takes two to three hours. The Heritage Exhibit in the Peirce-du Pont House takes ½ to one hour.
Most restrooms and drinking fountains are wheelchair accessible. The Conservatory and The Terrace are equipped with elevators, and several of the doors in the Visitor Center, Conservatory, and The Terrace are automated. Most garden paths are wide and paved, and a wheelchair route is suggested on the Guide Map. The Lookout Loft is the only accessible treehouse. The Chimes Tower and some of the Peirce-du Pont House are not wheelchair accessible.
Electric scooters and wheelchairs are available for rent in the Visitor Center, on a first-come, first-served basis. Scooters and wheelchairs are free for Members. Non-Members and Member guests are charged a daily fee of:
- Electric Scooter: $25
- Wheelchair: $4
I started out walking the Gardens using my trekking poles, but found out quickly that there was so much to see and photograph that I would not have the stamina to see it all by walking. After stopping at the Café for lunch (fresh local salads, soups, sandwiches, hot entrees, pastries, and more), I went back to the Visitor Center and rented an electric scooter. Stowing my gear in the scooter’s basket made visiting the vast expanse of the Gardens grounds much more pleasant.
It’s difficult but not impossible to see and photograph the Gardens in one day. To help you plan your visit and identify potential photo opportunities, Longwood Gardens provides interactive maps of both their outdoor gardens and the conservatory. Use these to help plan you visit.
Buy before you arrive! Timed admission tickets are required and a limited number of tickets are available each day.
Tickets are available online at tickets.longwoodgardens.org, in person in the Visitor Center, or by calling 610.388.1000 (additional fees apply for phone orders).
Ticket prices range from $18 – $25 for adults, depending on the time of year, and from $15 – $22 for seniors (62+). Military discounts are available.
For the location and directions to Longwood Gardens, see the Getting to Longwood Gardens section at the end of this article.
Exploring Longwood Gardens
There are many gardens to explore at Longwood Gardens. Here is a sample.
The Outdoor Gardens
The Flower Walk
The Flower Walk is a brick walk that extends the length of two football fields. There is a mix of flowering plants that changes with the seasons. Here you have an opportunity to photograph a collage of colors, from cool lavenders and blues to fresh pinks, reds, oranges, and warm yellows.
The Rose Garden
One of my favorites, here you can photograph hundreds of roses in bloom from June through October.
The Hillside Garden
The Hillside Garden consists of an intimate sequence of paths, stone landings, and stairs with dramatic views of the Chimes Tower and Waterfall. It is mostly accessible, but a bit hilly in parts. Trekking poles or an electric cart are useful. Wheelchair users might want to have someone to push them.
Last but not least in my sample of outdoor Gardens is the Waterlilly Display. Tucked into a courtyard outside the Conservatory, this Garden is a photographer’s delight. I’ve spent many hours photographing the water lilies here. As you can see from my shots, a zoom lens is extremely useful here. If you’re shooting handheld, at a lower ISO setting to improve sharpness and detail, a stabilized lens is essential. The display is open from June through late September, with more than 100 types of colorful day and night blooming tropical and hardy water lilies.
The Indoor Gardens
The Orchid House
The Orchid House is awash with color, with over 500 fragrant orchids for you to admire and photograph. Only a fraction of the 7,500 orchids at Longwood Gardens are on display at any one time. To ensure a continuous display, the plants are replaced three times a week with others from the Garden’s five orchid growing houses. Photographing here requires a monopod or flash (tripods are discouraged in the gardens). An off-camera flash is especially useful for dramatic lighting effects. For most DSLR users, you can trigger your off-camera accessory flash from your built-in flash (Commander mode for Nikon cameras).
The Cascade Garden
The Cascade Garden entices the photographer with cascading water, clear pools, and richly textured plants offering a visually exciting display along the vertical rock channels of the greenhouse. The curved path leads to colorful bromeliads and philodendrons.
The Bonsai Garden
This miniature forest changes with the seasons. Each bonsai is unique, carefully groomed and trained to offer a vision of beauty and serenity.
The Fern Passage
Find Boston, rabbit’s-foot and bird’s-nest ferns growing here among other tropical plants. Take time to explore the fascinating collection of insect-catching plants, including pitcher plants and Venus fly traps.
The full list of guidelines may be found at: http://longwoodgardens.org/visit/guest-etiquette-guidelines/photography-guidelines
Here are some excerpts:
- All professional photographers must sign a permission form indicating that any photographs or video/film footage taken at Longwood will not be used for promoting commercial products or services.
- Monopod/ tripod use by amateur photographers is permitted in the Conservatory and the Peirce-du Pont House from 9:00 am–12:00 pm daily.
- Monopod/tripod use by amateur photographers is permitted outside in the Gardens any time with the exception of specially ticketed events (Fireworks, Concerts, etc.) and at the discretion of the Manager on Duty.
- Photography sessions must not interfere with the enjoyment of other guests.
- Tripod use is limited to garden photography. Use of tripods for individual or family portraits, product photography, or portfolio photography for aspiring photographers is not permitted.
- All photographers and artists must purchase general admission tickets or be active Members.
My photo gear on this garden trek included a Nikon D7000 (now replaced by the D7100), a Nikon 18-300 mm stabilized zoom lens, a Nikon ML-3 wireless remote, a Nikon SB-800 flash (now replaced with the SB-910), and an Adorama Flashpoint F-2560 carbon fiber monopod with an Adorama Flashpoint F-2 ball head. All the gear was carried in a light weight Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L Camera Daypack. I also used a pair of Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles to ease walking the Gardens.
Resources – Gear
Getting to Longwood Gardens
Longwood Gardens is located on US Route 1, about 3 miles northeast of Kennett Square, PA.
For internet mapping or turn-by-turn GPS, enter 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348.
This miniature forest changes with the seasons. Each bonsai is unique, carefully groomed and trained to offer a vision of beauty and serentity.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."