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my favorite of the delaware gardens
To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive. - Robert Louis Stevenson
Hello to each of you reading. This is the second photo recap of the 7 gardens I toured in Delaware in May. You can see Nemours here, as well as some gardens in Spain that I visited in November. This email is ‘too big’ due to my image file sizes, so if it ends abruptly, you may need to open it in your phone’s browser to see all the images
I have spent many hours wondering why garden design did not find me earlier in life. It may come down to the simple fact that I never saw many gardens. [“You have to see it to be it.” Billie Jean King] I also knew of landscapers, but never of “gardeners.” And landscapers most certainly did not look like me.
There are so few great gardens, all things considered. I have no memories of spectacular backyards or well curated flower collections. Compared to the average person, I have traveled an enormous amount over the last 20 years and until very recently, it never occurred to me to see what the “garden culture” was in a city or country. In high school, I did visit one of the better botanical gardens - which happened to be in my city, and despite a love for growing vegetables and being outside, I don’t have a memory of any sort of reverence for it. Of course I could be misremembering, but despite being a very creative child, I also do not remember my curiosity being piqued by the creativity a great garden requires.
In 2019 I very randomly started seeking out gardens in shows, online, and in person - and was amazed how difficult it was to locate them. Somehow, despite a sea of Instagram and Pinterest photos, you cannot simply see a garden in its entirety.
I have concluded that, as Americans, we do not really know gardens.
When I began writing this little newsletter, one my primary goals was to share gardens that I discovered with readers. To find them, understand them, try to see them perhaps as the designer did.
Gardens are not part of our cultural or social worlds, and I hope that this will change.
Let us all do our part.
While Nemours instantaneously exerted a flagrant show of power and grandeur, Longwood welcomed you into a world of paths, each leading to a distinctly unique garden. Nemours had a sense of finality; Longwood was an entire world with a subtle invitation to discover. Fittingly, Nemours was completed in a single, rushed take while Longwood was a 40 year journey that crept through 202-and-eventually-906 acres as the years passed.
Proof that a small farm is never “just a small farm,” Pierre’s six districts are whole entities unto themselves. While we walked most of it in 3-4 hours, you could easily spend an entire day stopping to sit and see the view at each bench.
The du Ponts created nearly all the gardens in Delaware that we visited, and as one of the wealthiest and largest families in America, we did a lot of mental gymnastics to figure out the family relationships. I found this tree when I came home, and added dates that gardens were begun. It is impressive to me that creating enormous gardens was a hallmark of being a du Pont that spanned 150 years.
Pierre Samuel duPont was the president of duPont from 1915-1919, became president of General Motors in 1920, and was on the founding board of the Empire State building. He was the oldest of 10 children and graduated from MIT in chemistry.
He did not marry until after his mother died, when he was 45 — and as was the other family tradition, married his first cousin Alice Belin (left). She was 43 and they kept separate bedrooms, bathrooms, and dressing rooms. They never had children. She was dynamic, warm, and a great entertainer - often compared to Eleanor Roosevelt.
Alice and Pierre were known to share a true friendship - and those close to him say that Lewes Mason (right) was the true romantic love of his life. Pierre made him head chauffeur and built him a home on his property. Lewes ate most meals with Pierre and Alice, and died tragically of the Spanish flu in 1919. Pierre built a hospital wing in his honor and had a large portrait of Lewes commissioned that stayed in his office for the rest of his life.
In my research on the du Ponts, I have so far found Pierre to be the most upstanding of them all: stunningly generous, an advocate for minorities, kind, caring of his youngest siblings, and without corrupt business practices.
Begun in 1907, The House & Theater district was built first, with what you might expect from an extravagant man seeking to make meaning of his property: A 600’ flower garden walk, an open air theater, a park, and a romantic hideaway called Pierce’s woods. He was unmarried at the time, and I love that he created so much beauty to enjoy himself.
The flower garden walk incorporates a Peony Garden, which is where I fell in love with peonies — and Pierce’s Woods is where I stopped and stared for a very long time at the ferns called Sensitive Ferns.
In 1916, months after marrying Alice, Pierre began a 4 year project of building a conservatory giant enough to house NINE individual gardens. To be blunt, I did not care for it, and I have no photos worth speaking of. Perhaps one day I will fall in love with orchids, cacti, and strange tropical collections, but for now I like my plants rooted in the ground of the great outdoors.
In 1925, Pierre began work on The Lake District, building The Italian Water Gardens. This musical display of water jets dancing over a rich green lawn is what the word “delight” was created to describe. Despite its ornateness, it felt almost childlike. The boy in the bathtub is no different than the man directing millions to watch water splash to his favorite songs.
In 1931, Pierre determined not enough fountains!!!
And so the Main Fountain Garden and its district was created. It was a monstrous feat of engineering design and implementation. Water, sound, and color are orchestrated to display well, entire orchestral performances. Pierre believed water could be theater and true entertainment. It was impossible to shoot with my lens and view, so you can see it here too.
This District includes an Idea Garden, a Rose Garden, and a Topiary Garden. The topiaries felt like Alice in Wonderland, the Roses were timeless, but my favorite garden in all of Longwood was the Idea Garden. This space was meant for experimentation and the flower combinations I saw were unmatched. I did my best to capture my favorites and likely will be replicating these in my own garden and in gardens around my city.
May we all act true to ourselves, for life is short and loneliness is long.
Until the next garden,
“You cannot go on 'seeing through' things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to 'see through' first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To 'see through' all things is the same as not to see.” CS Lewis