Longwood Gardens working to stay on top

With a 75 percent increase in attendance during the past decade, Longwood Gardens is now “the most visited public garden in North America right now,” said its executive director, who fervently wants to keep it that way.

Members of the Chadds Ford Business Association socialize before hearing a presentation from Paul Redman, executive director of Longwood Gardens.

Members of the Chadds Ford Business Association socialize before hearing a presentation from Paul B. Redman, executive director of Longwood Gardens.

Addressing the Chadds Ford Business Association, Paul B. Redman said that attendance figures for the year ending Sept. 30 came in at 1.34 million visitors. Redman was the keynote speaker at the CFBA’s monthly luncheon on Thursday, Oct. 6, which was held at Gables Restaurant.

Redman was introduced by Esmé Frangiosa, the group’s incoming president, who detailed Redman’s award-winning, 25-year history in horticulture. It began with Redman’s bachelor’s and master’s degrees in horticulture from Oklahoma State University and took him to the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio, before landing him at Longwood in 2006 .

Mindful that many in the audience were familiar with Longwood Gardens, Redman focused his presentation on work that occurs primarily behind the scenes, projects joined by a commitment to sustain the horticultural, cultural, and educational vision of the gardens’ founder, Pierre S. du Pont.

Paul B. Redman, executive director of Longwood Gardens, interacts with members of the Chadds Ford Business Association.

Paul B. Redman, executive director of Longwood Gardens, interacts with members of the Chadds Ford Business Association.

One example involved the Main Fountain Garden, also known as “the Versailles of North America.” Redman explained that it represented a state-of-the-art marvel when installed more than 80 years ago. But after decades of inclement weather took a toll, Longwood initiated a massive reconstruction project that began in October 2014.

When the fountain reopens in May, it will feature “a knockout performance that has never been seen before,” said Redman. For example, some of the water jets will be equipped with propane lines to create an actual fire and water experience.

And while much of the construction has been visible, a significant portion has not. Redman said more than 4,000 pieces of limestone that originated in Italy went to Dan Lepore & Sons, a third-generation masonry company in Conshohocken for painstaking repairs. In addition, a quarter-mile of underground tunnels took shape so that Longwood employees would have easier access to the new equipment; previously, repairs involved digging.

Longwood Gardens’ many mission-based programs represent other components of the gardens that often escape public notice. He said staffers are constantly working on projects that involve butterfly and bird monitoring, water research, and plant development.

The Main Fountain Garden is shown in April 2015 during the early stages of the renovation project.

The Main Fountain Garden is shown in April 2015 during the early stages of the renovation project.

During the past six decades, Longwood has developed more than 130 plants in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including the popular New Guinea impatiens and a host of chrysanthemums.

“More of us are wearing white lab coats than not,” Redman said.

Redman said continuing that tradition has spawned another offshoot of Longwood’s outreach: education. Redman, the co-chair of Seed Your Future, described the initiative as a national campaign in partnership with the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) to promote awareness and careers in horticulture.

He said Seed Your Future aims to reverse an alarming decline in awareness of horticulture among young people, especially as a career path. He said many schools have discontinued their horticulture programs.

Without university programs, the nation’s gardens will soon have recruiting problems, Redman added, explaining that Longwood is trying to fill that void by instituting numerous free, online education programs.

“We’ve been taking Longwood Gardens to the world,” Redman said. “This is doubling our outreach to schoolchildren.”

Redman ended his presentation fittingly with a quote from renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright: “The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes. If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.”

He said Longwood is committed to that investment, and he reminded the audience that Longwood Gardens wants area businesses to benefit from the gardens’ visitors. “We promote local businesses on our website,” he said.

 

 

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