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Longwood Gardens to start $250 million transformation project this spring


Amanda Parrish   | Delaware News Journal
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Longwood Gardens is beginning its largest revitalization project in its history this year.

The 1,000-acre botanical garden announced plans for a $250 million transformation project called "Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience" that will include a new West Conservatory, a restaurant, private event space and new plantings across 17 acres of its property.

The conservatory, the focus of the project, will be a 32,000 square-foot glass house with asymmetrical, crystalline peaks that seem "to float on a pool of water," with an indoor garden inspired by landscapes of the Mediterranean, according to a press release.

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Paul Redman, chief executive officer of Longwood, said the idea for the project came from a 40-year master plan developed in 2010. The goal was to enhance the parts of the property that guests weren't visiting as frequently, and "de-clutter" the 17 acres of space.

"Being able to share beauty with our guests because that's what we do here. It's what it's all about," the CEO said. "We want people to come to Longwood to be inspired, be connected to the beauty of mother nature. If they can walk away with a greater appreciation for the natural world around us, we have done our job."

A Bonsai courtyard outside the West Conservatory, a new restaurant and a private event space also are part of the plan.

The new conservatory will go where the current West Conservatory and Cascade Garden building are. The two buildings will be demolished, and the Cascade Garden will be moved into a new 3,800-square-foot glasshouse. This will be the first time a historic garden is relocated as a whole, according to a statement from Longwood Gardens.

In 1906, Pierre du Pont purchased a small farm near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, to save a collection of historic trees from being sold for lumber. That site became Longwood Gardens — more than 1,000 acres of gardens, woodlands, meadows and fountains.

All new structures are designed by Weiss/Manfredi, a New York City firm that is best known for its design of the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park — named by TIME magazine as one of the top 10 marvels in the world.

Reed Hilderbrand, who has a landscape architecture practice in Massachusetts, designed the new gardens and pools.

Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, the founders of Weiss/Manfredi, said their design was inspired by the "sense of discovery and invention" that Longwood possesses.

"We conceived of the design as a cinematic journey, a sequence of experiences that range from intimate to grand. The West Conservatory, with its pleated crystalline ridge, appears to float on water and is magically reflected by day and night," they said in the release.

Douglas Reed, founder of Reed Hilderbrand, said in a statement they based their designs off existing features of the garden and wanted the project to "retain the character and warmth associated with Longwood’s origin as an arboretum and country estate.”

An education and administration building with a library and classrooms, renewal of the Waterlily Court and preservation of six 20th-century glasshouses are also incorporated into the $250-million project.

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As part of the construction, the Orchid and Banana Houses will close on March 1 and re-open later this year for Longwood's holiday display.

While construction is underway, the Main and East Conservatories will remain open, and events and performances will still be held.

Redman said Longwood had about 1.6 million visitors a year before the pandemic. With the new additions, he expects that will increase to about 2 million by 2030.

The project will start this spring and will be completed by fall 2024.