Known for its exquisitely-crafted formal gardens, Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania has just unveiled its new meadow garden, 86 acres showcasing “best practices in ecological garden design with artistic interventions.” Designed by Jonathan Alderson Landscape Architects with a team of local artisans, the meadow garden features three miles of walking trails and boardwalks that guide visitors from the woodland edge through sweeps of native wildflowers, then along to the wetlands surrounding Hourglass Lake. To guide the landscape experience, landscape architect Jonathan Alderson, ASLA, accentuated natural patterns that celebrate the meadow’s ever-changing nature. Also, all structures — from the entrance gate and learning pavilions to the bridges and boardwalks — were crafted with local materials to reflect Brandywine Valley culture, history, and ecology.
“The new meadow garden is an exciting departure from the more formal gardens,” said Longwood Gardens director Paul Redman. “Guests will experience a bucolic Brandywine Valley landscape and discover the beauty and variety of native and naturally-producing plants.” Visitors will gain an “appreciation for the inter-connectedness of plants and wildlife.”
To augment the existing plant varieties already thriving in the meadow and woodland edge, over 100 species were added to create sweeps of color, texture, and diversity. These plants permeate the landscape and provide interest and habitat benefits in every season.
In spring, woody plants like Eastern redbud and flowering dogwood combine with an herbaceous groundcover layer.
In summer, meadow species provide visual scenes and attract pollinators like the monarch butterfly.
While in the fall, native asters and meadow grasses blend with the autumn foliage of woodland-edge species of maple and oak.
Even in winter, dry seed pods and grasses provide subtle beauty and texture while providing important habitat amid the snow.
Alderson designed the meadow garden as a showcase for ecological design. The new meadow “minimizes environmentally-destructive impacts by integrating itself with living processes. Land stewardship techniques are implemented with the goal of enhancing and maintaining the resilience of the existing native plant communities.”
By doubling the original meadow’s size, several species that require sizable habitat to complete their life cycle and migratory needs (the Eastern Meadowlark, for example) will have the opportunity to thrive. The plant and soil communities also function as dynamic, living water filters for the ponds, headwater streams, and wetlands throughout the gardens. “This meadow is a direct reflection of how the human and natural words interact, offering a valuable ecological and cultural experience.”
Longwood Gardens founder Pierre DuPont’s left a legacy of support for education. Following in this tradition, the meadow garden is a place for discovery and learning. Four pavilions frame vistas and provide gathering points for school groups and other visitors. The historic Webb Farmhouse has been restored and will serve as a gallery and interpretive center reflecting the site’s intricate history
Efforts were made during the Webb Farmhouse restoration, along with the construction of boardwalks and other structures, to source local, environmentally friendly materials. Reclaimed historic wood beams and floor boards were used to restore the Webb House; benches are constructed from fallen trees on the Longwood property; and much of the Garden’s hardscape features stone sourced from nearby Avondale, Pennsylvania. Local masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, and others handcrafted the structures found in the landscape.
Guests are welcome throughout the year to enjoy self-guided walks or to schedule school-group visits. Meadow days in August, September, and October will offer additional opportunities for fun and exploration.
In the meantime, check out this video and start thinking about how to get yourself to Pennsylvania for this Americana landscape experience.
Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.