Italian Water Garden, trees, and treehouses at Longwood Gardens

October 02, 2023

One of my favorite picture books from my childhood is Marcia Brown’s Cinderella, which received a Caldecott Medal in 1955 for Brown’s enchanting illustrations. Jeweled ball gowns, romantic palace grounds, fairy godmother magic — it all came to sparkling life on the page.

I haven’t paged through that book since my own kids were young. But I feel that same sense of enchantment every time I visit the Italian Water Garden at Longwood Gardens, one of the Fling gardens I toured in late September.

Italian Water Garden

This was my third visit to Longwood, and I enjoy all its various gardens tremendously. But there’s something about this formal garden with its sky-blue pools, jets and arcs of white water, and green lawn and trees that evokes a fairy-tale world.

I’m always a little surprised when I fall in love with a formal garden like this one. I don’t think of myself as a formal garden kind of gal. I like structure in a garden, but my taste skews more contemporary. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, I really love a billowy, bee-buzzing meadow garden full of flowering native plants.

But there it is: just looking at these photos and remembering the shuzzzzing sound of the fountains and the pleasing way the water danced and the light shone through the leaves of the colonnaded trees, I’m transported into that age-old story of longing and magic again.

This is the power of a garden. You never know when or where it will hit you, but you must always be open to it.

Spitting frogs add their own magic to the scene, as jets spout around the edge of a pool…

…and then a central jet flings sparkling water as high as the treetops. A manmade Old Faithful.

I ambled the length of the Italian garden, admiring the dancing fountains as they cycled through their effects. At last, however, the hour of midnight approached — or rather, I remembered there was much more to see at Longwood. Unlike Cinderella, I left the ball with both shoes still on.

Longwood lake

Near the water garden you find a glassy lake, a relaxed place where people lounge like the French in Fermob chairs and gaze at the water. During my last visit a couple of years ago, I sat here for quite a while myself. It was lovely.


Overlooking the lake, a cathedral-like treehouse beckons.

At the front door, a carved wooden dragon greets you like a butler. You rang?

Inside, Escher-like stairs lead up to a many-paned window overlooking the lake-sitters.

There are majestic trees as well. And oh so much green for this summer-seared Texas gardener to bask in.

To see another treehouse, I took a path less traveled into a green wood…

…under low-arching limbs…

…and strolled into a diaphanous fort in the tree canopy, high above the ground. More fairy-tale magic!

And in the distance, Longwood’s meadow. Stay tuned for more.

Up next: The golden meadow trail at Longwood. For a look back at Longwood conservatory’s playful children’s garden and jaw-dropping plant displays, click here.

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Digging Deeper

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