Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Spring with the Du Ponts

Years ago, I got into a discussion over a magazine quiz which asked you to choose your favorite season. Without hesitation, I answered summer, as did most of the people there. A few said autumn for the changing colors and only one said spring because she likes gardening. I had a friend who once said "I can't wait for winter!" Sometimes I think there's something seriously wrong with skiers.
After thinking it over, I changed my answer to spring. It really is my favorite time of the year and it all has to do with the color green.

There's something unique about the shades of green that occur in April and May. They're fresh and vibrant. The greens of summer are dull and washed out by comparison. When the tree leaves begin to grow in April, it's an explosion of life in green. I learned about Longwood Gardens only a few weeks earlier. I'd never heard of them so a quick search told me that it was part of the du Pont estates. In 1906, Pierre du Pont, great grandson of the founder of Du Pont Chemicals bought a well known Quaker farm to save its trees from being cut for timber. He spent years as a "gentleman farmer" tending the arboretum, fixing the place up and expanding the gardens. Eventually, the property was opened to the public.

I'm never sure what to expect when visiting an estate, but I knew it would be an excellent place to capture some of the greens I've been seeing over the past several weeks. It was only an hour's drive away, so I got up early on a Saturday morning and drove down.

I arrived a half hour before opening; that gave me time to shoot some of the tulip blooms outside the entrance. Other than the proliferation of blossoms, the first thing I noticed was that the place was literally crawling with photographers and their gear. I discovered that a photography club arranged to meet that morning. There was every imaginable type of photographer in the group: from high-end full-frame camera on rails with boom strobes toting Indiana Jones types to a kid with a Polaroid camera!
The garden requires that photographers with tripods sign some sort of special release and only allow us to use them until noon. For some reason, they think that tripod detract from the enjoyment of the gardens. I, on the other hand, find that baby carriages detract from the enjoyment of the gardens. They were not amused by my suggestion that they ban such cumbersome and unsightly contraptions. I mean, after all, babies can't appreciate the gardens, so there's no need for carriages.

Stunning Italianate garden.

I so badly wanted to walk barefoot up these steps, but the whole area is closed off.
The house on the property is a modest affair compared to some of the mansions of the day. However, the atrium makes for a spectacular living room!

It somehow looks more appropriate as a black and white image.

The estate had a good size greenhouse, but du Pont expanded that to something just short of a palace. There are numerous atria with plants worthy of any city's public gardens.

Some of these "rooms" were used to host garden parties.
After the greenhouse, I explored the tulip garden. I'm sure horticulturalists would have a field day here. All the various varieties of tulips were organized by family and painstakingly labeled.

The property was running a special on the day I visited. For a few dollars more I was given a ticket to the nearby Du Pont family estate of Winterthur. Despite of the threat of rain, I decided to check it out. Henry Francis du Pont had studied horticulture and put his knowledge to good use on his father's estate. The home, although enormous, is lost in a forest of trees and gardens surrounding the estate.

The "Fairy Wood" is the most appealing part of the estate and the most whimsical forest garden I've ever encountered. Through the trees you can make out organic buildings that blend into the forest.
The structures in the wood were designed for the Du Pont children.
A garden path near the house.
I was more interested in the exterior of the estate, but I took one of the tours to get an idea as to what the place was like. Du Pont loved to collect antiques and had several theme rooms exquisitely decorated.
There are no "typical" rooms in the estate.

1 comment:

krista said...

hey louis -

beautiful pictures!

can you email me? - my ipod with my contacts went bananas and i lost all my contacts.