The Winterthur Garden and Museum in Wilmington, DE is an easy day-trip from me in the DC area, but I’d never seen it until last month.  The reason?  I thought it was just for spring.  Famously so, of course, because it’s a garden with the big idea of being a “wild garden, a la William Robinson’s book by that name.  Wild Gardens are large acreages designed naturalistically with plants in large drifts.

A new, expanded edition of that book was recently published with fabulous photos and commentary by Rick Darke.  In my rave review I quote Darke’s recommendation of wild gardens “for all of us seeking creative, practical approaches to today’s challenges and opportunities – balancing culture and environment, native and exotic, consumption and sustainability.”   The cover photo was taken at Winterthur, by the way.

So fast forward, I was one of a bunch of digital garden writers invited to Winterthur and nearby Nemours (yet another duPont-created garden in the Delaware Valley), and can report that even after the spring blooms have faded, Winterthur is a fabulous place to visit.


Ferns, like these on the cover of The Wild Garden, look luscious all season.

My favorite part of the garden are the Enchanted Woods, where this Faerie Cottage house is just one of the features that makes you feel young again. 

 There’s a Bird’s Nest.

Fabulous benches.

 An Acorn Tearoom and a Troll Bridge.

And I think these are called Story Stones, though they look more like mushrooms, right?  Anyway, the Three Susans couldn’t resist perching on whatever they are and mugging for the camera (thanks to Kathy Jentz!).  The other Susans, two of my favorite people, are New Jersey-based designer Susan Cohan and Baltimore Sun columnist Susan Reimer.

Okay, back to adult gardens.  If we must.  This pool is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, but this photo focuses on an unusual Sedum in the planter.  It’s called ‘Thundercloud’ and looks great with a Wandering Jew, a plant greatly in need of another common name.

Big picture, I’m sure Winterthur is spectacular in the spring.  There are lots of azaleas, of course, because this is the Mid-Atlantic, but also millions of spring bulbs – more than a million snowdrops alone – and wildflowers blooming through the turf.

The same pool in April.  (Spring photos thanks to nice Winterthur staff.)

Susan Cohan encouraged me to notice the fabulous stonework. 

A little back story

Keeping all the duPonts straight is a challenge for visitors to the Delaware Valley, where they once congregated and seemed to be competing to create the grandest estate.  Here at Winterthur we enjoy the vision of H.F duPont, who was born there, trained as a horticulturist at Harvard’s Arnold arboretum and spent, we’re told, one to four hours a day in his gardens.  Taking charge of the estate in 1916, he co-designed the formal gardens with designer Marian Coffin, kept detailed notes on the gardens, and served on the Horticulture Commitee at Longwood (another product of duPont horticultural passion).

In all, there are 60 acres of garden, which are surrounded by almost 1,000 acres of farmland.  It’s all under a conservation easement so the property will never be commercially developed.  The goal today is to manage the garden today as though H. F. du Pont were alive and carrying on his vision.

If you go

DO take a tour of the Winterthur Mansion, too.  And a stop at Nemours or Longwood will more than complete your day trip.

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