Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens is the most beautiful garden in America. Really. And I dearly love gardens. A beautiful garden is a blend of textures — still water, falling water, rock, bark, blooms and a host of artificial ornamentation, like bridges and pergolas, to offset the natural splendor.

So when I say Longwood is the best in the U.S., that means it has everything. Certainly, with over 400 acres open to the public there is room enough for everything. The Italian Water Garden, symmetrical and crisply blue-green, reminded me of European villas. The Wisteria Garden, at its peak when I went in May, was enchanting: vines twisted on the arbor, layers of cream and lavender blossoms crowding each other.

But I surprised myself by spending most of the morning in the conservatory alone. A glass-domed greenhouse in itself is nothing unusual, and I’m not one for hothouse flowers. I favor romantic tableaux. Monet’s Giverny is something close to my ideal. But Longwood’s conservatory is built on a larger scale, divided into garden rooms that can be intimate or vast. Corridors dip into climate-heavy oases for horticultural treasures, then open onto gala-grand atriums. It’s dizzying.

For a photographer, it’s fairly close to heaven.

Inside the conservatory at Longwood Gardens

Well, it was for me. Three hours went by quickly.

I nearly skipped one room, the Children’s Garden, given that I had at this date reached the stately age of 31 (six days ago, as it happens), and usually these sorts of spaces are areas to vent a little energy when you’re young and still coping with how to conduct yourself through life — which sometimes I still am, but that’s beside the point. So often, a children’s garden is little more than a playground. This one, however, though it definitely had some places to climb (and I did), had much more. It’s a whimsical setting, a gathering of flowers and fountains, stairways and sculptures. I enjoyed photographing the water features

Thanks to the conservatory, Longwood Gardens retains its “most beautiful” status at any time of year. Whenever you go, aim for a weekday to avoid the throngs, purchase your tickets in advance and arrive when it opens. Something this beautiful is justifiably an all-day affair.

Longwood Gardens topiaries

If you plan to visit in winter, read my story for USA TODAY’s Go Escape:
Longing for Longwood