Exploring Two Historic Estates in the Brandywine Valley

Guest blogger Julie grew up an Army brat, living in Germany and other interesting places. 

She recounts her memories of her childhood: My parents would take the family castle hunting on weekends and when we came back to the States it was with some trepidation that we would no longer have that immediate connection to history. Just a few years ago I traveled with my parents and husband to France to tour the Loire valley with a focus on several of the chalets there. Absolutely stunning! While one of my favorite gardens will always be Schwetzingen near Heidelberg (to this day I can recall the mixed scents of onions and boxwood), I am very much drawn to the beautiful gardens of Chenonceau, Amboise, and Chambourd.

This brief history provides some context to my delight with Winterthur and Longwood in the Brandywine Valley.

I’d been aware of both estates for some time, but the opportunity didn’t present itself until this Labor Day weekend. My husband and I decided to try for a one night stay in Wilmington, since we were hoping to tour both estates as well as enjoy another visit to the massive Pre-Raphaelite collection at the Delaware Art Museum.

We headed out early that Saturday and had time that afternoon to check out Winterthur. If any readers are fans of Downton Abbey, there’s a fun display of various costumes from the show!

Winterthur was one of the DuPont estates. The DuPonts to this day apparently still employ about 10% of Delaware’s working population, so there continues to be a strong DuPont presence in the current day. Francis DuPont bought the place to rescue a tree sanctuary/arboretum in danger of being razed. The tree in the picture above is one of those trees.

He loved his gardens and actually planned several of the gardens and features. Winterthur was more of a natural garden (not too formal) but planned on a massive scale…he planted azaleas in the thousands! and the crocus bulbs in the front lawn of the estate make a veritable blanket of flowers in April/May. To the left you can see one the water features.

Near this feature is now a reflecting pool, but in its heyday it served as a heated outdoor swimming pool! We stayed the night at the recently renovated DuPont Hotel in Wilmington. What a beautiful place! We had a fun dinner at a local eatery (we didn’t have the business casual dress required for the famed Green Room) but were able to avail ourselves of its luxury the next morning for breakfast. We sat at a beautifully appointed table from which vantage point
we could admire the oak panelling and gilded ceiling. The food was delectable, and we felt very spoiled 🙂

Once we tore ourselves away from the hotel, just 20 minutes away was Longwood. Winterthur was a beautiful dip of the toe in the luxury of the DuPonts, but Longwood simply took my breath away.

Much more lavish in scale and in the formality of the gardens, even without all the spring flowers there were still so many gorgeous blooms.

The Italian garden with its fountains was surprising in its sophis-ticated yet delightful pattern of ebb and flow.

There are three innovatively designed tree houses placed throughout the estate as well! This one was my favorite… Beautiful and engaging use of wood throughout!

We walked for several hours, always with something new to greet us.

We ended our tour with the conservatory…. A stunning display of wealth and knowledge. Filled to the rafters with flowers the variety of which boggles the imagination, it was almost overwhelming, but in the best possible sense.

The gardeners decorate the conservatory for Christmas in a new style every year, so definitely a trip to Longwood is something to keep in mind if the winter lets you travel!

Getting there: Winterthur: for in-car GPS and online mapping services, use: 5105 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, DE 19807. At the fork in the road in front of the Visitor Center, turn left and drive up the hill to the Visitor Parking Lot. A walking path leads to the Visitor Center.

Longwood Gardens is located on US Route 1, about 3 miles northeast of Kennett Square. GPS it: 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348; if your GPS does not recognize the 1001 Longwood Road address, we suggest trying 399 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348.

Hours: Winterthur: Tuesday–Sunday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Longwood Gardens hours vary by season. Generally opens at 9 a.m. Please check the website.

Dogs: Droopy tails — dogs not welcomed at Winterthur or Longwood Gardens!

Website: www.winterthur.org; www.longwoodgardens.org
Read previous posts about Longwood Gardens and Winterthur!

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Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I’d love to hear what you’re doing! Email daytripgal@gmail.com if you’re interested in being a guest-blogger!