It was 20 years in the making and needed the relocation of Route 52, but Longwood Gardens has opened the Meadow Garden with more than 100,000 wildflowers and grasses and 1,000 trees and shrubs.
Longwood Gardens Director Paul. B. Redman said it also required the work of an army of professionals and 100 tons of Avondale Stone.
The new garden debuted June 13. It spans 86 acres and is an ecological habitat for flora, fauna and 95 species of birds.
Redman said the design — by Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects — would make visitors feel as if they are “standing in the middle of an Andrew Wyeth painting.”
“The new Meadow Garden is an exciting departure from the more formal gardens at Longwood,” he said. “In the Meadow Garden, guests will experience a bucolic Brandywine Valley landscape and discover the beauty and variety of native and naturally producing plants and gain an appreciation for the interconnectedness of the plants and wildlife in the meadow. The Meadow Garden is the latest example of our commitment to sustainable practices and sound land management.”
One of the ideas behind the design is that it reflects the changes of the seasons. Carolina silver bell, Eastern redbud, flowering dogwood, wild cranesbill, and Virginia bluebells will highlight springtime, while black-eyed Susan, hollow Joe-Pye-weed, sunflowers, and plants for the declining monarch butterfly, such as common milkweed would take over in the summer.
Autumn colors include native asters and warm-season meadow grasses. Winter blows in with the dried seedpods of the flowering plants and ornamental grasses, which provide texture and an important winter habitat for a variety of native insects and animals.
Alderson said he took inspiration from patterns that occur naturally and accentuated them to create experiences that celebrate the meadow’s temporal and ever-changing nature. “This meadow is a direct reflection of how the human and natural worlds interact, offering a valuable ecological and cultural experience,” he said.
Longwood’s staff will steward the Meadow Garden’s ecosystems by enhancing native plantings, managing invasive species, and supporting air, water, and soil quality. By more than doubling of the size of the meadow, the project will increase the potential for several species that require an expansive habitat, such as the Eastern Meadowlark, to complete their life cycle. It will also aid migration.
The plant and soil communities of the Meadow Garden will function as a living water filter for the ponds, headwater streams and wetlands throughout the space, enhancing the Brandywine River watershed, officials said.
The new garden is also for hikers. Redman said more than three miles of mainly grass-covered walking trails would lead visitors to the diverse habitats found across the garden’s terrain.
School groups and others, too, will have the opportunity to study the plants in the meadow as well as the birds and insects that those plants sustain.
One of the highest elevations is Hawk Point, a natural spot for bird watching, while the Pollination Overlook explores the important role of pollinators, from bumblebees to butterflies to hummingbirds.
From the forest’s edge, where the woodlands meet the garden, to the open, undulating fields, to the lush wetlands surrounding the Hourglass Lake, the Meadow Garden will provide a bucolic tapestry of trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses, and wildflowers.
The Hourglass Lake Pavilion offers a chance to explore the nearby wetlands and inhabitants while the Forest Edge Pavilion shares the story of the surrounding woodlands.
The historic Webb Farmhouse — which has stood on the property since the early 1700s — has been restored and will serve as an interpretive center, Redman said. Inside the residence, restoration architect John Milner created two galleries, one showcasing photography and artwork depicting the surrounding landscape, and one that details the story of the people who inhabited and influenced the land since the Lenni Lenape.
Special opportunities to explore the new landscape — Meadow Days — which will be held Aug. 2 from 4-8 p.m.; Sept. 20, 11 a.m.–3 p.m., and Oct. 11 from 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Experts will be on hand to answer questions and share the story of the Meadow Garden’s flora and fauna as guests explore walking trails, embark on a seek-and-find, and more.
All images courtesy of Longwood Gardens