Longwood Gardens in October, Part III – The Conservatory

The Longwood Gardens Conservatory is full of rewarding experiences for plant lovers. Like the rest of Longwood, it is so big it’s almost overwhelming. There are 5,500 kinds of plants housed in over four acres under glass. The scale, plants, and design combine to create the feel of an alternative reality.


We got to a majority but not all of its 20 indoor gardens.


The first gardens we saw after entering were the East Conservatory and the Exhibition Hall. Everywhere there were signs of the annual Chrysanthemum Festival that was just beginning. I did find these spidery yellow mums appealing.


However, there were more blooming mums outside the Conservatory than there were inside. Inside, many of the stars of the Chrysanthemum Festival were not quite ready to strut their stuff. I wasn’t too disappointed, though, because I’m not really a big mum enthusiast.


The Exhibition Hall has a kind of late Victorian feel to it. There are marble pillars and a sunken marble floor covered with a few inches of water to provide reflections. It seems like a place suited to upper class soirees, and in fact Pierre du Pont used this area for parties and dances.



This area has plenty of water features. I liked these rather sinister-looking birds spouting into the pool below.


The moving water kept a steady murmuring sound in the background that was really quite soothing.


There are mums that I like, but the flowers above are a good example of what I don’t appreciate about Chrysanthemums. Honestly, they remind me of either purple poodles or those Sesame Street aliens with the big mouths.

purple poodle

ses st martian

Is it just me, or do you see what I’m getting at?


Anyhow, let’s move on. The Acacia Passage is a very cool space. Those are actually the branches and leaves of Acacia leprosa trees hanging down from above, creating what feels like a series of feathery curtains for the visitor to pass through. Abutilon of some kind are in the hanging baskets.


I very much liked the Mediterranean Garden, which included Pelargoniums, Aloes, Blood Orange, various Euphorbias, Climbing Lilies, and something called Jutta’s Botterboom (which is closely related to Jutta’s Botterbing).


There was also a banana and plantain garden. I show this because it provided me with yet another opportunity to point out to Judy that bananas are herbaceous plants, NOT trees. There was actually a sign which explained this quite clearly. This is a family argument we have been having for literally over 20 years (the kids are on her side). Once again, she refused to acknowledge the evidence.


The Silver Garden was one of the most striking spaces in the Conservatory. I loved how they combined stone with low-growing plants of different textures.


Like the Mediterranean Garden, the Silver Garden was filled with plants from arid climates around the world.


We saw one of the most interesting parts of the Conservatory only because I needed to go to the bathroom. The bathroom, we discovered, was located in the Green Wall, a vertical garden 14′ tall and 300′ long that includes about 30 different kinds of ferns.


There is also an aquatic plant display in a courtyard surrounded by the Conservatory.


The display was past its peak, but there were still quite a few aquatic plants in bloom.




According to one sign, black ink is added to the water to display the plants to better advantage.


Something called Water Platter (Victoria cruziana and V. amazonica), looked as if it could be an aquatic version of the plant from Little Shop of Horrors.


The huge circular leaves are surrounded by a sort of wall with nasty-looking thorns. To my mind, the flowers are suggestive of mature artichokes. Fascinating, but rather ugly.


The Longwood Conservatory is an outstanding place to be enchanted and stimulated (and occasionally repelled) by what the plant world has to offer. Judy and I can enjoy conservatories, but we generally don’t find them to be exciting. Longwood was an exception.

58 Comments on “Longwood Gardens in October, Part III – The Conservatory”

  1. All I can say is ‘Wow!’ I love everything about this conservatory with all its beautiful planting – even the odd and ugly plants seem to have found their right place here. (Those pink brain-like Mums are perhaps the only exception!) Surely you didn’t do all these parts of Longwood in one day? It must have been exhausting! Very nice photos and nice post!

  2. Now that is exactly the sort of conservatory I would like here. Beautiful.
    OK, it doesn’ t really go with a 16 th century house but with a conservatory like that who needs a house?
    I agree about those big mopheaded chrysanthemums, they look like someone having a bad hair day. I love the spray ones though, they bring much needed colour to the November garden.

  3. I so enjoyed the rest of the tour of Longwood in this post and your last. It’s definitely going near the top of my bucket list! I’m not a big fan of conservatories either, but there are always some interesting and unique plants to see, such as the green wall. I saw the water lilies V. amazonica at a conservatory in Pittsburgh this summer where I learned that they can supposedly hold a human weighing up to 200-300 pounds. I didn’t test it out, though:) Drones for invasive plants–what a great idea! And I agree, using them as guards to chase away rabbits or squirrels would be an even better idea–maybe a new business venture for you, Jason!

  4. Four Acres Under Glass, the perfect title for a book on this amazing collection of plants living in giant glass houses. What a wonderful post! I understand the herbaceous perennial vs. tree argument. You family need to go visit the jungles of the tropics it will help them understand that size is not what defines a shrub vs. a tree. But sometimes people are content in their own version of reality…I certainly am!

  5. I was happy to read that you’re not a mum enthusiast, had you been this post would have probably taken a turn and not been so enjoyable. My personal rule is to always check out the bathrooms in places like this. Often you’ll find something brilliant, as you did.

  6. Oh my goodness Jason, what a thoroughly amazing place. I know just what you mean about poodles and Aliens but they have an almost fascinating beauty about them all, I want to visit yet feel a love hate thing going on with the opulence of it all.

  7. I really love their indoor displays. I am sorry your images did not load for me here in Vienna, but the purple poodle did. I love seeing the gardens there anytime. I have been there in late October, so I can guess what your photos show. Mums are OK when massed out like they do. It sure is colorful.

  8. Gosh, so much here took my breath away! I loved the living walls and the conservatory! As for those birds! Wow!
    I see what you’re getting at! Purple poodles….yup! A great description!
    P.s….you’ll be glad to know that I’m on your side re the raging family argument! Great post.xxx

  9. What a stunning place. My favourite was the Acacia Passage and also the water lilies (beautiful photos)…not sure about putting black ink in the water……the lilies are perfect all by themselves. …I’m with you on not turning flowers into purple poodles! Thanks for the three posts…Longwood gardens are now on my bucket list.

  10. I am not wild about conservatories either. You gave this one a must see vibe about it. I do like mums for their fall color. I would agree that they aren’t the most exciting plant. When you have some that return year after year and don’t need much attention and they give you nice color late in the year. I can appreciate them.

  11. Wow, what fabulous photos! I love how spacious the conservatory looks. In most conservatories I’ve visited, I feel like the plants are crowding the people. After a while I begin to feel a bit claustrophobic. But these photos indicate a sense of wide open paths and spaces. It looks like a really wonderful place to wander around.

  12. I have a feeling if you lived here in Washington, where bananas often grow back from the roots after they turn to mush and die back to the ground in the winter, like every herbaceous plant in your garden, Judy might be convinced that they are not trees. They really aren’t. Thanks for sharing your photos of the Longwood glasshouses. I love that colorful shot of the circle in the Mediterranean Garden (just under the Acacia walk).

  13. I enjoyed reading your Longwood posts and looking at your photos. I was there in the middle of October and saw much that you did, but we missed some things too, as we had to drive back to Virginia in the same day. I’ve been to Longwood several times, but on this trip my main goal was to explore the Meadow Garden, and I loved it. You are much quicker with your photos; I took about as many as you did, but I am still sorting through them, and hope to get a post up soon.

  14. I see what you mean about the mums. It’s such a process to get them to that point and once there they look kind of,,,,, processed. I would rather a smaller bunch than a line of your muppets!
    Still I’m going to try and see them one year. The different varieties are fascinating and so different. Did you stay for the lights? I was surprised by how much I loved them… but it makes for a looooong visit.

  15. I want to live in that conservatory. The green wall bathrooms are way cool and I’ve long lusted after those huge amazon water lilies but have neither the summer heat nor the space for a water feature large enough to grow even one of them. The mum domes look very interesting. I sort of like the alien poodle/hairy Sesame Street mums but more as a cut flower. Three or five of them in a large mixed arrangement is interesting but am not fond of their massed use. Love the spidery ones used that way though. Thanks for taking us to your alternate reality for a few moments – much less expensive than other means of doing that:)

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