Botanic gardens are opening up to visitors and I wondered how my favorite, Longwood Gardens, would handle the different pressures that Covid is bringing to the visitor experience.
Enjoying the gardens is partly an outdoor experience but also an indoor experience of visiting the huge Conservatories.
Reservations for timed entry are required like in the past and you can go to these visitor guidelines if you want the full rundown. But basically their hours have changed slightly and they are closed Tuesdays. Longwood also strongly encourages contactless entry, by paying for your tickets on line in advance, and simply showing the ticket on your phone when you arrive. It couldn’t be easier!
Currently the children’s garden and the music room are closed but everything else is open and you are requested to wear a mask both indoors and outdoors unless you can maintain a consistent 6 feet away from people other than your family group.
Outdoor seating is available in the dining area and some very limited indoor dining. My party elected to try one of the picnic totes that we ordered the day before and we picked it up at the Beer Garden and ate at out outdoor table. It was delicious and our party of four ate just about everything, plus a huge Beer Garden pretzel!
It was plenty of food! In the Beer Garden, there were no lines when I was there, but there were markers on the pavement for people to stand 6′ away when there was a wait. Limited self service wheelchairs were available but scooters and strollers are not, so bring your own.
Maps aren’t available but are easy to download. One way signs and arrows are visible throughout especially in narrow and more confined areas. Like at Christmas time, you can only go one way through the Conservatories.
Hand sanitizing stations are placed throughout the garden and I was happy to see plenty of people using them. Some of the restrooms were closed – most notably the visitor center ones- but there were nearby restrooms convenient to use.
What Not to Miss
In August, always expect to be wowed by the outdoor aquatics display of water lilies and lotus. Surrounding the area are lots of exquisite blooming Angel’s Trumpets, Brugmansia.
I think the waterlily display is at its peak right now with massive water-platters and more than 100 types of day and night blooming hardy and tropical waterlilies. Tucked in between the Conservatories, the Aquatic Court was a great place to spend some time watching the dragonflies dart around.
Incredibly, these giant waterlilies are started from seed in late winter and planted in submerged planters at the end of May in Longwood’s heated pools. Kept at a constant 86 degrees, the waterlilies grow rapidly. and are stunning from July into mid-September. Read this great article on Victoria regia, discovered in South America in the 19th century, and hybridized into the beautiful ‘Longwood Hybrid’ that grows here today.
Fountain shows are being scheduled at regular intervals and and a friend who recently attended one said that they was plenty of room to spread out and socially distance from others.
Just before the fountain show starts as dusk descends
And don’t forget to see the Franklinia tree planted by the Pierce du Pont house. In full bloom when many other trees are long finished, the creamy white blossoms are lightly scented and look fabulous against the glossy green leaves.
Franklinia alatamaha, was discovered by John and William Bartram in 1765 along the Altamaha River in southern Georgia. William Bartram first brought seed back to the garden near Philadelphia, in 1777 and named the plant Franklinia in honor of his father’s close friend Benjamin Franklin. Not found in the wild since the early 19th century, you rarely find it in gardens, only in Botanic Gardens. All Franklinias are descended from those grown by the Bartrams. It was a treat seeing a large Franklinia in full bloom; A bit of American history on display!
Finally, the Kiwi vines were loaded with very large Kiwis (they are ready in October) by the Terrace restaurant – a first for me to see them growing in this area. But Kiwi vines are very cold tolerant and can even grow in Maine! They just need a pollinator so you need to grow both a male and female vine to get fruit.