Travel: Pa. gardens get into the holiday spirit

It’s almost the season to enjoy caroling, candy canes, Christmas trees and the Longwood Gardens’ holiday light show, which adds a merry twinkle to December’s dreary days.

A Longwood Christmas, which was named the best holiday botanical light show by USA TODAY in 2018, takes place from Nov. 22 to Jan. 5, and the gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, pull out all the stops — including 500,000 twinkling lights, colorful fountains that rival Italy’s most celebrated waterworks, and magnificently adorned trees with glistening icicles and elegant, ivory orbs.

This year’s theme is the shapes of the season, inspired by traditional favorites such as poinsettias, pine cones, snowflakes and icicles.

“For many, it’s a holiday tradition. Families get their pictures taken in the same spot every year, and there’s something for everyone, from concerts to carolers to Christmas tree displays,” said Patricia Evans, Longwood Gardens communications director.

Gardening and conservation were passions of founder and industrialist Pierre S. du Pont. In 1906, du Pont bought Peirce’s Park — future home of Longwood — to rescue its trees from the lumber yard chopping block, then he transformed the arboretum into a horticultural showplace.

Du Pont loved Christmas and threw holiday parties for his employees starting in 1921. After his death in 1954, the first public Christmas display was in the conservatory in 1955. The first outdoor display was added in 1962 and featured three evergreens with lights, which roughly 1,000 guests drove around the parking lot to see. Last year, 468,000 people visited the displays during the 45-day event, Evans said.

Thousands of poinsettias, amaryllis, fragrant paperwhites, roses and other floral finery fill Longwood’s 4-acre, glassed-in conservatory. Living wreaths fashioned from plants including orchids to cactuses, and trees made from various plants bring a cheerful spirit to the conservatory’s 20 gardens.

This year, the conservatory’s Exhibition Hall features a handcrafted, 350-foot-long gold ribbon decorated with giant ornaments nestled among a forest of trees, ending in a towering Christmas tree trimmed in red, gold and silver ornaments.

The Music Room lets visitors step back in time to when they were kids in a candy shop. The room shimmers with two 18-foot Fraser firs dripping in pastel-colored Christmas candy. Teaming up with America’s oldest candy store, Shane Confectionery in Philadelphia, the display also pays homage to the mouth-watering candy counter, complete with lollipops, chocolates, buttercreams and clear toy candies, a once-popular Pennsylvania German Christmas tradition.

Outside, new displays include dancing lights that simulate the water jets in the Main Fountain Garden. In the Meadow Garden, visitors can stroll through a 140-foot tunnel of light, and discover a grove of glowing architectural orbs that pulse and change to the rhythm of holiday songs.

The Wildlife Tree returns with handmade ornaments that serve as a holiday buffet for furry and feathered friends.

To round out the holiday cheer, visitors can enjoy local choirs, take part in a 10,000-pipe Aeolian organ sing-along, watch the miniature train set make its way around the gardens or sip some hot chocolate around one of three firepits.

Longwood Gardens is about 40 miles southwest of Philadelphia. For more information, visit longwoodgardens.org.

Published at Fri, 08 Nov 2019 11:07:59 +0000

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