Escaping the winter blues at Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens tulipWe got lucky this year. The Washington, D.C. area avoided major snow storms and — with the exception of a very cold week in late January where we saw single-digit temperatures — enjoyed a relatively mild winter.

The mild winter was great news for those of us who hate shoveling snow, but bad news for those of us who tend to suffer from a massive case of Spring Fever.

Give me a bright, sunny, 50-degree February day and I’ll find myself  daydreaming about fields of tulips,  their colorful heads dancing in the spring breeze.

Sadly, although I see shoots of green leaves sprouting from the ground, a signal that daffodils and crocus are readying their annual display, I’m still surrounded by bare tree branches and dormant shrubs. Clearly, I’m overdue for a day trip to Longwood Gardens.

Located about 3 hours from the D.C. Metro area, Longwood Gardens is an absolute delight to the senses. And every winter, in that lull between the Christmas holidays and Spring Break, Longwood hosts an Orchid Festival showcasing thousands of gorgeous orchids throughout their 4.5 acre Conservatory. It’s a wonderful break from the grays and browns of a late winter in the Mid-Atlantic region.

This year’s pilgrimage to Longwood did NOT disappoint.

From the moment we stepped out of the cold of a windy February afternoon and into the welcoming warmth of the Longwood Conservatory, we were overwhelmed by the orchid displays, which ranged from HUGE, showy arrangements…

Longwood Gardens orchid display

Orchid display

…to dainty vignettes tucked among the foliage.

Longwood Gardens orchid display

Ladyslipper orchid

This year our visit coincided with one of Longwood’s “Beyond the Garden Gates” days, featuring demonstrations and lectures, and access to areas generally off-limits to visitors. In one room, a Longwood employee showed us how the huge orchid “balls” are created and how to reduce the weight of a large hanging or potted plant, while maintaining an appearance of fullness.

Longwood Gardens demonstration

The two secrets Kelly shared with us were 1: Fill a resealable food storage bag (quart or gallon size, depending on the size of the pot) with styrofoam packing peanuts and nestle it into the center of a hanging arrangement or the bottom of a large pot. The peanuts add bulk, but no weight, and you need less potting soil as a result. 2: Top the bag of peanuts with an empty plastic pot, which you have perforated along the sides. The pot provides a surface to build up to, allowing you to mound soil and plants above the rim. And because the pot is perforated, it will also act as a watering reservoir. I thought that was pretty clever!

I also enjoyed the brief presentation offered by another Longwood employees on the care of bonsai trees. Longwood has a nice collection of bonsai, some dating as far back as 1907. According to Joe, bonsai trees are meticulously trimmed of new growth to maintain their miniature stature, and are trained to grow in their gnarled, twisted shapes by weighting down the trees with wires and stones hanging from the branches. The goal is to create the illusion of an ancient tree, worn and shaped by centuries of weather.

HydrangeasWhile I have never had any luck growing either orchids or bonsai, I appreciated the “behind the scenes” look into the workings of this amazing operation. And any winter day that includes gorgeous pink flowers like these hydrangea is something to be enjoyed.

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5 comments

    1. Yes, it is an amazing display. It’s wonderful that these former private homes have been preserved and opened to the public so we can all enjoy them. I hope you have an opportunity to visit Longwood some day. Thanks for commenting,

      Susan

  1. I’ve been to Longwood Gardens during Christmas time and it was really a treat.

    1. It’s gorgeous at Christmas, isn’t it, Joshii? My favorite display is the Christmas ornaments made by local schoolchildren (the trees are set up in the fruit house), but really, the whole place is pretty impressive during the holidays. Thanks so much for commenting.

      1. Its been a while but I remember the bird attractions outside. I googled best gardens in the US and this one came up but so did Denver. (not even close).

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