A Longwood Christmas

A few years ago we almost gave up on holiday visits to Longwood Gardens.  We’re lingerers after all and the crowds and hustle bustle of hundreds of visitors can put a lot of pressure on ‘that guy’ who’s holding up the line because he wants to give all the gardenia flowers a sniff.  We kept at it though because for as nice as Christmas and good cheer are, a few whiffs of the tropics can also go a long way bringing some jolly to a cold winter night… and these are the long nights and stressful days which can really use some tropical relief.

longwood christmas

The orangery decked out for the holidays.  Warmth, humidity, and sunshine made the display even better.

Who would have thought the answer to our crowded visits could be as simple as going on a less crowded day?  For the second year in a row we visited on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and for Christmas diehards that might be inappropriately early, but for us it’s been working perfectly.  The weather was beautiful and we nearly had the place to ourselves (relatively speaking of course).

longwood christmas

This year the apples are back, this time keeping company with thousands of floating red cranberries.

The conservatories are always perfectly decorated with the colors and sounds of the season.  I think my favorite part this year was the bright sunshine streaming in through the glass when we first arrived.  Walking through the doors and into the sunny, humid warmth was an instant escape from weeks of static and dry skin.

longwood christmas

Walls of windows, tree ferns, and fountains… I could get used to this 🙂

Flowers, greenery, and holiday decorations.  You can imagine I took plenty of pictures but since they’re not snowdrop photos I’ll spare you from the bulk of it.  Click >here< for last Christmas or >here< for last summer if you need more, or better yet visit the Longwood website for the real stuff!

longwood christmas

My favorite view this year, a courtyard scene off the back of the music room.

Since the kids ditched us this year there was plenty of time to admire the boring flowers without anyone tugging a coat sleeve.  Longwood always has orchids and I suddenly had the time to admire them… although I’m still far from being an orchid person (mostly due to their habit of dying on me).

I won’t go on and on about every conservatory flower but I did find something which I thought was even more special than their regular.  In one of the back greenhouse passages was a display of a few of their ‘on trial’ poinsettia, and I thought is was an interesting glimpse into some of the variety which this humble plant from Central America has been bred into.  This is also where I met some of the ‘golden’ poinsettias which carry names such as ‘Autumn Leaves, and ‘Gold Rush’, and came in colors more traditionally associated with the end of summer.  What do you think?  At least there’s no blue dye or glitter in sight!

…and then night fell.  We grabbed a bite to eat, toured the grounds, enjoyed the fountains (not the main fountains, they’re off for the winter), took in some Christmas songs around the organ, warmed up around the fire, and then closed the place down with one last tour of the conservatory.  It was holiday-magical in the late evening, with most visitors having already headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

A Longwood Christmas with a French feel.  The symmetry and apple-cranberry patterns surrounded by box are chateau parterre inspired.

Then we were the ones headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

The stroll back out to the car.  A two hour drive home awaits 😉

As usual we enjoyed our visit, and it must have been somewhat inspiring since I spent a few hours this weekend out in the cold putting up our own lights.  So far the reviews have been less than flattering, and there’s no talk of admission tickets, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

If you decide to make your way to Longwood this year for the displays be sure to buy your tickets online before you go, just to make sure they’re available.  Also if you want to take in a quieter visit, try to avoid Saturdays and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Those might be the nights when you’re better off hitting the eggnog at home.

23 comments on “A Longwood Christmas

  1. Cathy says:

    Looks really lovely – especially with no people in your photos. I love that parterre effect they created. Definitely worth the drive and nice to get you into the holiday mood. Although it is now Advent and there are lights up all around our village I just didn’t feel Christmassy, but after placing a few candles around the house and making a table decoration with some nice scented sprigs of silver fir from the garden, I found my mood had changed, and today I am baking Christmas cookies! Hope you can enjoy the run-up to Christmas Frank!

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I did have to wait a while for some of the people-free photos. That and some careful editing 😉
      I also wasn’t much into the Christmas spirit until just this weekend. The visit was great, but it took a few more days before the feeling sank in. Since then decorations have gone up, lights are on, and I’m ready to go! -although I really won’t mind if the weather stays this warm and sunny for another few weeks 🙂
      Enjoy the cookie baking, I can almost smell them!

  2. You beat me to it Frank! Didn’t get my Longwood post up yet and your’s is a hard act to follow. Beautiful!! P. x

  3. johnvic8 says:

    Thanks for reminding me of a wonderful visit to Longwood Gardens over the Christmas holidays some years ago with dear, dear friends. We met there, stayed in quaint B&B, and enjoyed our visit. Wonderful memories. Have a blessed Christmas.

    • bittster says:

      Now that’s the way to do it. This time of year can be so hectic and fast moving it really pays to slow down and take the time to make it special. A blessed Christmas to to you and yours.

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I am so glad you posted these beautiful photos. I live too far away for a visit there. I have enjoyed it vicariously.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Lisa. It’s quite a haul and sometimes I dread thinking about the ride down, but once there I always enjoy the visit…. except maybe the time when the kids were extra cranky… that gets old fast.
      Hope your December is off to a great start!

  5. Those poinsettias . . . I could enjoy the other colors at a time other than Christmas. They have a tropical feel and why not put them on the porch in July–assuming they can get them to color up then.

    • bittster says:

      I guess you could convince me some are a Christmasy gold, but you’re right that the rest are more tropical. I wouldn’t mind a small poinsettia tree on the porch, covered in all kinds of sunset colors for August. It is a tropical plant after all, and as long as you’re breeding all kinds of new colors might as well get an August bloom onto the plant as well!
      -I just ordered a few more tulips this weekend. You may be done with your hundreds of bulbs but it looks like I wanted to make a little more work for myself 🙂

  6. Eliza Waters says:

    Wow, they put on a spectacular display, don’t they? Love the apple/cranberry patterns, how do they do that? Are there forms?

    • bittster says:

      The do go over the top don’t they? I did see forms which keep the fruits in place. They’re floating in an inch or so of water so without the forms the cranberries would be everywhere!

  7. Hmm, gold Poinsettias? I decided to skip the usual holiday plants and bought a Boston fern. Longwood looks like it was worth the trip.

    • bittster says:

      I love Boston ferns but just don’t have a spot for one. My aunt used to have a big one with fronds which hung nearly to the ground and I thought it was quite an amazing thing. But then again she was someone who also grew excellent African violets so there was always something interesting on the windowsill.
      I have a small tree fern under the growlights this winter. I think it’s fascinating.

  8. Anne says:

    What a feast for the eyes!

  9. Christina says:

    I really enjoy these posts about Longwood and Christmas, it puts me in the right mood for the holidays too. When I first saw the apples and cranberries I thought they were tiles and not very nice but when you explained what I was seeing I enjoyed them very much more. As to the Poinsettias, I don’t mind all the different colours, maybe because they aren’t really flowers but adapted leaves; actually I quite like the autumn coloured ones. I haven’t seen them in Italy yet.

    • bittster says:

      I see what you mean, it’s easy to see the apples and cranberries as just tiles or some other colored decoration on the floor, and that would be much less interesting. I don’t remember seeing any artificial decorations while there, it was all real foliage and natural items, which I thought was nice.
      I liked seeing the poinsettias all together, but individually I’m not even sure which I would settle on. I tend to always resort to red! Someday the other colors may show up here and I’ll have a decision on my hands.

  10. What a great visit. We’ve visited the conservatory only once in late March. So when you say your kids ditched you, do you mean they didn’t come or just wandered off on their own? Love the golden poinsettias.

    • bittster says:

      The kids all had either sleepovers or birthday parties to attend to so that was the reason they opted out. At 9 and 11 they fortunately haven’t done much wandering off on their own yet, except for that one time a few years ago which did end up with a teary reunion 😉

  11. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Ooh, I loved the floating apples joined by cranberries and the candle-filled glass bubbles in the twig arch! Looks like a perfect antidote for the cold winter blues.

  12. I love that fountain courtyard! 🙂

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