Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA with a group of local bloggers to learn about their Star Blogger program. They plied us with peppermint-chocolate cupcakes and star-tinis (martinis made with star fruit) and told us about all the star-themed holiday festivities at Longwood. They could have given me star-shaped pinecones to eat, and I still would have been happy to be there.
Chris and I had a family membership for several years, so I was already very familar with Longwood Gardens. Pierre S. Du Pont bought the former farmland in 1906 because he didn't want all of the trees to be cut down and turned into horse carriages or golf clubs or whatever people used wood for back then. Pierre preserved the land and turned it into a magical place with a huge conservatory, open air theater, Italian fountains and every plant and flower you can imagine. Over one thousand acres of indoor and outdoor gardens.
During Christmas in the 1940s, Pierre and his wife Alice would host grand celebrations for all of the Longwood employees and their families. They would give gifts to each of the many children in attendance.
In 1957, Longwood Gardens opened their Christmas celebration to the public and all hell broke loose. People would travel from all over the country to see the spectacular spectacle that is Christmas at Longwood Gardens. I visited on a Saturday night a few years ago, and it seemed that everyone from the state of Pennsylvania had the same idea.
But when I visited Longwood last week, on a Thursday night, it was a completely different experience - and not because I drank too many star-tinis. The crowds were slim. I didn't see any moms battling for room on the walkways with their strollers. It was actually peaceful, and I was able to enjoy all of the Christmas displays. Like the 1,600 handcrafted star-shaped ornaments. And the Christmas trees decorated by the students of local elementary schools. And the 500,000 twinkling outdoor lights - including the illuminated full-size trees that were floating in the lake. I still haven't figured out how they did that.
My favorite part was the table-for-48 that was set for a Christmas celebration, similar to the Du Ponts of old. I bet the person who folded all those napkins is riddled with carpel-tunnel syndrome.
I'm planning to bring my kids and Chris back to Longwood next week, on one of the off-peak nights - preferably Tuesday through Thursday. They love the indoor Children's Garden and the Garden Railway. And I've always had a special place in my heart for the employees at the Children's Garden who have secret stashes of towels for the rowdy kids who stick their heads in the children's fountains. Other people's kids. Not mine.
Longwood is a lovely place to visit any time of year, but visiting in December really gets you into the holiday spirit. And take my advice - avoid the weekends, if possible! Leave work early or do whatever you have to do to get there during the week. I promise - your experience will be so much better. It's cheaper during the week, so there's that, too. Off-peak days are Monday-Friday, except for December 26-31. There are a few Mondays that are members-only days - December 10th & 17th. If you aren't a member, you will need to buy timed tickets online. It's an easy process, but you should plan ahead to make sure there are tickets available for the day you want to visit.
Before your visit to Longwood, you should also consider a stroll through downtown Kennett Square, the quintessential American main street (and, lucky for me, only five minutes from my home). Great restaurants, vintage shops (Scout & Annie and Green-Eyed Lady) and, always a freshvintage favorite, a wine-tasting room! It's also the home of world-famous Talula's Table - a gourmet food market that closes its doors at 7pm and becomes a one-table restaurant. Every foodie's dream.
If you are planning a trip to Longwood, and you need any other advice about area restaurants, antique shops, etc., feel free to email me with questions. Longwood Christmas runs until January 6, 2013.
In exchange for being a Longwood Gardens Star Blogger (and telling you about a place that I was already in love with), I received compensation from Longwood Gardens. My opinions are my own, as usual.
And, if you visit this Christmas, tell them that Colleen from freshvintage sent you, and they will give me free mums for life. Just kidding - don't do that.