Longwood Christmas and a Surprise

Nursery News: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Snow storm 12-10-2013 12-10-2013 4-14-049Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in the snow

Starting in late November this year, we had five snow storms before Christmas.  I like snow but was already feeling a little cabin crazy when an email arrived from Longwood Gardens offering a great deal on a renewal of my long-expired membership.  We usually visit Longwood for a special event, but it struck me that the Longwood Gardens conservatories are a great place to go for a walk in the winter.  Renewal was easy, and Michael and I headed to Longwood bright and early the next day to test out our new indoor walking venue.


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 1-34-24 PM.

Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-17-49 AMTopiary Garden


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 1-41-01 PMGreat use of dried hydrangea flowers along the front entrance gate.  I almost got killed taking the photo so I wouldn’t recommend stopping there.


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 1-28-14 PMCreative containers outside the cafe where we ate lunch.  The food is very good, especially the soups and chilis, and members get a discount.

There is plenty to see outside at Longwood even in the winter as you can tell from the above photos.  However, it was quite cold that day so we headed for the four acres of indoor conservatories.  We intend to go back in January in the late afternoon and evening to see the outdoor Christmas display.  If you haven’t done that, you are in for a treat.  For photos of the lights at night and tips for visiting, read my post A Longwood New Year’s Eve.

Mid-morning on a bright and sunny day turned out to be a bad time to photograph the conservatories so I don’t have as many photos to show you.  You will have to go yourself to see all the sights:


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-24-51 AM.

Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-28-33 AM.

Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-27-55 AM.

Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 12-50-47 PM.

Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-47-08 AM.

Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-46-57 AM


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-44-22 AM.

Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-44-11 AM


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-33-20 AMThe Exhibition Hall featured an elaborate and beautiful tapestry composed of 18,540 Granny Smith and Rome apples floating in 4″ of water and kept in place by a hidden structural form fabricated in house.


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-40-21 AM Christmas rose hellebores lined the edges of the floor.


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-33-51 AMA close up of the apples, which came from a local grower and will be donated to a local farm for cattle feed.


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-51-08 AM


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 12-41-31 PM.

Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-55-15 AM


Our surprise occurred as we were admiring this wreath in the back corridor of the greenhouses.  We ran into our friend Scottie Pennett who works at Longwood as a grower for the conservatories.  She is in charge of several of the antique glass greenhouses actually used by the DuPont family and offered us an impromptu behind the scenes tour.


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 12-03-59 PMScottie in one of her greenhouses.  On the left you can see a standard she is growing for a future display.  Weights have been tied to the branches to make them cascade down.

The attention to detail that is required for these plants is amazing.  Each one is individually groomed and manipulated to achieve the desired effect.  Plants are started as long as three to five years before the time that the actual display for which they are intended appears in the conservatory.  Scottie also trials plants that she thinks will be effective additions to future displays and presents them to the designers for consideration.  It is amazing to think that a plant that you breeze by in the conservatories might have begun from a cutting in Scottie’s greenhouse five years before.


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 11-59-36 AMA fuchsia basket where each branch needs to be tied down with string to give it the proper shape.


Longwood Xmas 2013 12-19-2013 12-04-18 PMAnother plant being tied to a frame to give it the proper look.


Thanks, Scottie, after our tour we had a much deeper appreciation for your work and that of all the other Longwood employees who produce such a gorgeous show in the conservatories year after year.  The Longwood Christmas display will continue through January 12.

Happy New Year,



Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 7a. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

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Nursery Happenings: The 2014 Snowdrop Catalogue, featuring snowdrops and other winter interest plants like cyclamen and hellebores, is on the sidebar, and we are taking orders.  To access the catalogue, please click here.  Please visit my Etsy Shop to purchase photo note cards suitable for all occasions by clicking here.

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42 Responses to “Longwood Christmas and a Surprise”

  1. What a marvelous escape from winter you’ve shared!! Believe it or not, I’m in no hurry for winter to end as I have so much glass work to complete so I can afford all the new plants I’ve ordered!!! We’re expecting -15 degrees tonight and highs this week of 1 degree… guess it could be worse… oh wait… it will be as the wind is supposed to be a problem!… -35 wind chill and all that sort of thing… stay warm! Larry

    • Larry, Those are the temperatures that we use to experience when I lived in Maine, and I can’t say I miss them. I am not anxious for winter to be over but just wish it had started at its normal time so I could enjoy my late fall plants like camellias and snowdrops. Carolyn

  2. A walk through any garden in the winter is such a renewal, but this appears to be very special. The photos are absolutely wonderful.

  3. So interesting to see behind the scenes. Those wreaths are gorgeous.

  4. Fascinating! What a treat – who would imagine that kind of attention to detail!

  5. Hello Carolyn,
    Fascinating as always, and I guess from what you write that Longwood is still home to the du Ponts?
    They look like some amazing old conservatory structures, and I loved the longtermism on show in the planning for future displays. Isn’t this what’s so great about gardening? But especially the floating apple display . Now there’s a concept to play around with in one’s head through the dark January nights….
    Best wishes to you both for a Happy and Peaceful New Year,
    Julian and Fiona

    • Julian, The DuPonts are gone and it is now a very well-endowed public garden that attracts visitors from all over the world. Few places in the U.S. would put so much work into each individual plant in their changing displays. I am glad you liked the floating apple display. I thought it was quite ingenious. Carolyn


    What a treat to get “backstage” . The floating apples are outrageous. I couldn’t tell what plants they were using as groundcovers. Is the one in the early photos with with flowers E Diamond Frost? and I don’t recognize the silver one at all. What a great place to have nearby!

    • Leslie, I usually take photos of all the labels so that I can give the plant names but this time I decided to relax and enjoy the display. I just went back and looked at the photos. The first silver plant looks like some type of dusty miller and the other plant looks like curry plant but I have no idea. I may go back and will check the labels. Happy New Year, Carolyn

  7. Longwood really knows Christmas! They do a stunning job as did you capturing the holiday there. I would love to visit next year during the holidays. A very happy New Year to you and your family.

    • Donna, Longwood has the best Christmas display of anywhere we have ever gone, but each of their conservatory themes throughout the year are amazing and well worth seeing. You should definitely come down to see it next year–a lot of great photos to be taken. Happy New Year to you and yours. Carolyn

  8. What a wonderful place to go to for a winter visit. Their displays are amazing, so beautifully detailed. Thanks for showing us behind the scenes to see a few of the tricks of the trade, no wonder mine never look that good.
    I hope you and your family have a wonderful New Year.

  9. The scale of Longwood is just amazing, I love all the color.
    We were there a few days ago, but weren’t able to enter until after dark, so it was a completely different experience. It’s nice to see the less crowded, well lit version too.
    I’m enjoying your snowdrop list. It’s such a struggle between thinking it over and acting before it’s too late!

    • I look forward to your snowdrops order. The really rare plants tend to go fast but unless you have a huge collection there will always be some special selections left to add to your garden. We are going to Longwood to see the outdoor lights on January 2. If I was only making one trip I would definitely want to be there after dark because the outdoor display is one of a kind. Carolyn

  10. Thanks for sharing your visit & your behind the scenes peek. It would be nice to read a regular blog about the work of those dedicated gardeners at LG.

    Happy New Year!

    • Julie, That is such a great idea. I would have liked to have been prepared to interview Scottie and record all the interesting things she said during the impromptu tour. One funny thing was that they have to raise extras of all the plants because visitors routinely fall into the beds or run over plants with their scooters. Happy New Year, Carolyn

  11. What a beautiful visit to finish the year. happy New year Carolyn!

  12. Hi Carolyn, thanks for a lovely tour, I remember your post from Longwood a year ago, a magical place both at daytime and after dark! Loved the floating apples and so interesting with the look behind the scenes. I am trying to grow my first fuchsia standards – they are still 2” tall cuttings but small cuttings get tall eventually…
    Wishing you happy New Year!

    • Helene, Glad you enjoyed the tour. I am going back tomorrow to see the lights at night. Scottie probably starts with 2″ cuttings too and then takes three years to complete the standard. I was going to say that I don’t know if I have the patience, but I have it for other types of horticultural endeavor like snowdrops. Happy New Year, Carolyn

  13. 4 acres indoors – sounds like heaven! Looks a lot like it too I think. That apple display is kinda magic. Like you we have been battered from storm after storm. Winter has hardly begun and I’m already feeling a bit tired of being indoors.

  14. Happy New Year, Carolyn! I was thinking about how I really need to get over to the local conservatory at Olbrich Gardens soon. I’m definitely feeling some cabin fever lately–with the snow and subzero weather we’ve been having. I love the Apple display! And all the beautiful wreaths!

  15. The talent that Longwood has working for them is incredible. Those apples are just too clever. Happy new year to you Carolyn.

  16. Happy New Year, Carolyn. We seem to be having a good old-fashioned winter all over the northeast! Going walking in the Longwood conservatories was such a clever idea.

    • Jean, I wonder whether you are experiencing this big snowstorm in Maine or here. It’s coming down heavily right now but even harder in Boston and north. We were going to Longwood again tonight to see the outdoor lights but not in this weather. Happy New Year, Carolyn

      • Carolyn, This storm is mostly hitting southern New England and going out to sea over Cape Cod, so its northern edge will just graze Maine. They’re predicting about 6-8″ here — not a big deal by Maine standards. The big story here is the cold, with daytime highs below zero. Even with my woodstove going full blast, I couldn’t get the temperature in the house up to 60 today, and I finally turned up the electric baseboard heat to supplement it. When I went out to drive to Portland yesterday, the yellow turtle light came on in my car, indicating that the hybrid battery didn’t have enough juice to run the electric motor and that the car would be running on gas only; that only happens in extreme cold. It’s good weather to stay inside and look out the windows!

      • We got the same amount of snow as you and supposed to hit 6 degrees tonight but 21 right now. When I lived in Maine from 1973 to 1983 there was always one to two weeks every winter when it never got above -10. I guess weather patterns have really changed and maybe this winter is swinging back. I have never had that light come on in my Prius but glad to know it can switch to gas only. Good luck keep warm and thank heavens for gas and electric back up. Carolyn

  17. We didn’t get to Longwood this Christmas because of my ill health, so I really enjoyed taking a virtual tour with you. P. x

  18. Just where I would head for on a Wintry day. Longwood really does look very special. Haven’t had snow as yet Carolyn, plenty flooding around the country though.

  19. Finally catching up Carolyn and this was a sheer delight seeing all these flowers…and your garden in winter is stunning….I still have never been to Longwood although it is a dream.

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