Longwood Gardens: The New Meadow Garden

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.Senna didymobotrya, candalabra-treeThe entrance garden outside the visitor’s center at Longwood is lush and tropical right now.

Michael and I are members of Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, US, and visit on a regular basis.  We have been excitedly awaiting the opening of Longwood’s new meadow garden.  We visited the meadow this week and were very impressed.


Longwood September 2014 9-3-2014 11-05-48 AMA longer view of the entrance.


Longwood September 2014 9-3-2014 11-10-25 AMAnother pretty entrance to the rose arbor.

The scope of the project is immense.  The garden is 86 acres filled with native plants appropriate to a meadow habitat.  There are three miles of walking trails through the meadow and its environs.  What Longwood has created in this meadow through ecological management of the property for native plants and animals is breathtaking and magical.  I highly recommend a visit right now because the meadow is at its peak.  However, for those of you who aren’t local, a virtual tour follows.  Keep in mind that photos cannot truly convey the amazing diversity and breadth of this project.


Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 12-08-49 PMA patch of Joe Pye weed in a sea of goldenrod, sunflowers, and other native plants.


Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 12-07-27 PM.

Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 12-04-05 PMNative grasses in the meadow area in front of Longwood’s scenic barn complex.


Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 11-42-22 AMThe newly restored Webb farmhouse, built in the 16th century by one of the original landowners, houses a very informative exhibit on the history of the area and the evolution of the meadow through the seasons.


Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 11-33-26 AMThree miles of trails circle and crisscross the meadow.


Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 11-31-52 AMThe native sunflowers really stand out.


Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 11-51-56 AM.

Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 11-29-50 AM


Helianthus sp, Joe Pye


Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 11-39-49 AMBands of color through the meadow are created by swathes of different plants.


Pycnanthemum viginicum, mountian-mintSome areas are still filling in so the meadow will look even better next year.


Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 11-44-54 AMLongwood’s bluebird box program is over 30 years old and fledges an average of 170 bluebirds a year.


Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 12-37-27 PMOver 1,100 native trees and shrubs have been added to the woodland edges bordering the meadow.


Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 11-32-54 AM.

Longwood Gardens Meadow 2014 9-3-2014 11-26-50 AM.

The pictures make the beauty look subtle, but it’s not.  The sensation of walking through the meadow with the sun shining, the bees buzzing, the butterflies nectaring, the birds collecting seeds, and the grasses swaying in the breeze cannot be captured in a photo.  If you can visit Longwood, try to do it now so you can share our magical experience.

I will leave you with the following quotation, for me the answer to the ending question is a resounding yes:

“What if, instead of depicting nature, we allowed nature in? What if, instead of building and maintaining artistic creations, we worked to develop and manage living systems? What could we learn . . . about how nature works? Could we create landscapes that were more efficient, more connected, more effective, and ultimately more valuable?”

Travis Beck, Director of Horticulture Mt. Cuba Center


P.S.  I am excited to report that the stat counter for Carolyn’s Shade Gardens blog has now recorded over 1,000,000 views.  Thank you to all my readers all over the world!

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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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28 Responses to “Longwood Gardens: The New Meadow Garden”

  1. Congratulations on your viewership! I always enjoy my visits here. 🙂 That meadow looks great, and it’s so encouraging that more organizations and people are restoring and planting prairies and meadows. It was almost too late–many of the plants are now endangered or threatened. Whenever I see photos of Pennsylvania (and when we drove through, as well), it strikes me how similar the landscape is to Wisconsin.

  2. Just Gorgeous!! I ❤ prairies and meadow gardens. We have so few of them left in the natural world; it's great to see that they're getting replanted and gaining their place along more formally structured gardens. I'm not local, but the pictures are lovely and great inspiration.

    • Kyle, So glad you enjoyed the photo tour. I always feel it is so inadequate compared to the real thing so you made me feel better about. It is very sad that meadows are becoming so rare. They are so much more beautiful than designed gardens. Carolyn

  3. The entrance plantings look summertime perfect, I wonder if the yellow plant is cassia, it sure looks better than the small undernourished plants I grew last year!
    Is the change in the meadow the increasingly diversified plantings or is there another big change? I always loved the wide open fields and remember being amazed by how it all sparkled one night from the many fireflies. It’s harder and harder to find anything so wide and open on the east coast these days.

  4. Hello Carolyn,
    Great to see that meadow habitat is being valued and restored on such a scale in the States as well. Very late in the day, but as here, better late than never. Would this type of habitat ever have been managed as ‘farmland’ ? And I wonder how it will be managed now? Grazing, cutting, or left as is? I’m guessing some management will be needed to keep trees from returning?
    I’ve just finished a wonderfully written book called ‘Meadowland’ by John Lewis-Stempel, following the year in a small English Meadow, with wonderful observations and prose. As you say, still photos alone can’t capture the magic of these vibrant living ecosystems. You need to be there, and experience them, but well done for alerting folk to this venture.

    To quote from John Lewis-Stempel’s closing page, which I’m sure he won’t mind(?)…

    ” This is the field I cut by hand, the field I was part of, where I learned the pleasure of simple things. If you want to know what happiness is, ask the fellow who cut the hay.”

    I agree with his thoughts..

    Best wishes

    • Julian, thanks for the wonderful quote. I am sure I would like that book if I can find a copy. If I had to use one word to describe Longwood’s meadow, it would peaceful. There was a feeling as we walked around that everything was in its place, hard to describe, better to experience it yourself. Carolyn

  5. It’s wonderful that meadows are being restored in different parts of the world, I think that at last people are realising what we have swept away in the past and decided that it isn’t too late to repair the damage. I love seeing flowers en masse like that and I’m sure the bees and butterflies do too!

    • Pauline, There are a lot of meadows in the northeastern part of the US, but unfortunately they are being overtaken by non-native invasive plants. The meadow at Longwood has oriental bittersweet in many areas. Longwood is managing it to keep it under control but not attempting to eliminate it. Carolyn

  6. We are visiting Longwood Gardens next weekend. Can’t wait to see the meadow in person, although you did a pretty good job with your virtual tour. P. x

  7. nwphillygardner Says:

    Did you learn if Longwoods’ recent meadow planting installations were restricted to truly local natives only, or did they define “native” to a broader US Mid-Atlantic region?
    [PS – Good to see you on Saturday’s garden tour]

    • Eric, Nice to see you too. I did not read anything that addressed this issue. It would be interesting to know Longwood’s approach to the definition of native. However, I think that the focus on local natives versus regional natives or cultivars of natives gets in the way of inspiring gardeners to plant any natives at all. I want people to plant natives whether they are native to Delaware County or the mid-Atlantic. Either one is a lot more native than Asia. Carolyn

  8. Flowers in a meadow are wonderful, but even more wonderful are all the forms of wildlife that benefit from such an area. Thank you for your photos and descriptions.

  9. This is why I grow a meadow…smaller but none the less beautiful with similar plants and it is ablaze every morning now with the sunrise hitting the goldenrod just right.

  10. Living near the Tallgrass Prairie I completely understand.

  11. Carolyn, I know, too often I use the terms, amazing, fantastic,fabulous, I think I may even have said awesome, can you believe. I don’t say wow though, Longwood, flipping, wow, wow, wow. Oh, and what is that (magnificent) plant in the first picture with leaves like Fern and yellow/brown flower spikes.

    • Alistair, So glad you like the meadow, it is amazing. I may have to go visit again soon. The plant in the first picture is Senna didymobotrya, candalabra-tree. It is native throughout Africa and probably not hardy where you and I live. Wikipedia used the dreaded word “naturalized” in Hawaii, California, and Florida so readers there and near there should probably avoid it. Carolyn

  12. I had to suffice with just a peak last summer. I can’t wait to see it finished. Will you be attending the Perennial Plant Conf. at Swarthmore?

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