Longwood Gardens, about an hour away from their home.
I had never been to a botanical garden before in my short life, and the place captured my imagination as few places ever have. I longed to run alone down the cement walkways of the conservatory to beautiful places where no one would ever find me. I spent weeks afterward fantasizing about living there, hiding in its secret rooms and wandering around alone when it was closed, getting to know every single plant and flower. I didn't have a single thought about where I would sleep or what I would eat. It didn't matter. Quite honestly, I don't have many happy memories of my childhood, but visiting Longwood was one of them. I never forgot it.
Last week I went again, for the first time in years.
Longwood Gardens is in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, an area that is famous for its mushrooms. (My sister Ruthie lived in Kennett Square for awhile, and always had things to say about the smell of mushroom fertilizer.) Originally a farm owned by Pierre duPont, Longwood Gardens has over a thousand acres featuring many several different types of outdoor gardens and seasonal displays. I understand that Christmas is spectacular, although I've never been there that time of year.
My favorite, and possibly everyone's, is the immense four-acre conservatory. The winding paths through the rooms, the old-fashioned glass and metal structure, the cement walkways with the immense drains, it's magical. And the smell! It's not just the scent of flowers. The rooms feature different types of plants that are kept at varying temperatures, and just inhaling is almost intoxicating, like mainlining sweetly flavored oxygen.
I love the special rooms in the conservatory – the ferns, the palms, the orchids. There is even a banzai collection, a line of tiny trees some of which have been "trained" for over a hundred years.
The outdoor gardens are also spectacular. My favorite is the topiary. It reminds me of The Shining, but in a good way.
Longwood Gardens is glorious. If you have the opportunity to visit, take it. Be prepared for crowds, though; Longwood encourages timed tickets these days. We went on a weekday in the middle of April and it was very busy, although that might have been because it was the first sunny day in forever. (We had five snowstorms here in March and early April this year.)
And there is a lot of walking. There are scooters, but you cannot reserve them in advance. We ate lunch at the cafe and the food was expensive but meh, plus we had to wait for a place to sit down and eat it because there weren't enough tables.
But I still had a lovely time. It brought that special visit from my childhood back to me in a most delightful way.