Magical children’s garden and plant displays at Longwood’s conservatory

October 01, 2023

This is how happy you feel exploring Longwood Gardens on the first day of the Philadelphia Area Fling, an annual garden tour held in a different city each year for garden bloggers and Instagrammers and others publicly sharing about gardening online. Longwood’s conservatory manager, Karl Gercens, hosted the Fling this year, and the 3.5-day tour started there. Diana, Laura, Lori, and I hit the conservatory first.

Columns swagged with staghorn ferns and tillandsias immediately caught my eye.

So did an arbor supporting a tall, red-flowered abutilon. Mixed in, and visible at top left, was Texas native Turk’s cap. What a hot and gorgeous combo. All my abutilons died during this hot and dry summer in Austin, but this inspires me to try again.

Indoor Children’s Garden

I adore the children’s garden inside Longwood’s conservatory. So often, conservatories feel like stuffy relics from the Victorian Era. But not here. Kids are invited in with playful fountains they’re encouraged to splash in, tunnels to explore, and high places to climb up into.

And plants aren’t skimped on either. Each play area is alive and green with lush plantings, which give the whole place a fairy-tale feel.

Spouting animals are everywhere you look.

A drooling dragon head occupies its own curvy grotto — a place to discover with delight.

The details are magical, like this dragon handrail with metal irises. I believe that may be a living pot of iris alongside, bringing art to life.

No idea what these are, but so cool, like curled ribbons.

Gecko or salamander fountain

He’s at the head of this long, carved-stone trough with little spouting lizards all along it.

Like this one — so cute!

A toddler-sized maze of low walls spills over with mums and ferns. In the brick arch, jets of water periodically arc from one side to the other — surprise!

I love this bird’s-nest fountain on a mosaic of leaves.

A stained-glass window nook offers a quiet space to rest.

A kid-sized seashell-mosaic tunnel…

…leads to a spooky dungeon room with vipers on the ceiling and a smoky cauldron below.

Ibises sip from another fountain.

And a pelican scoops up spitting fish at another. Notice the fish mosaic below.

Conservatory displays

The enormous conservatories are amazing just for the architecture of glass and stone. But the plant showmanship that Longwood fills them with is pretty astonishing — even more so now that I’ve had a behind-the-scenes tour to learn how some of these displays are created (more on that soon).

I wandered around just taking it all in.

Chrysanthemum topiary spirals — whaaaat?

It’s a fantasyland of plants.

I was smitten by these dark-leaved peppers frilling out the base of a potted palm.

Red and yellow peppers pop against nearly black leaves.

Pink-and-yellow dracaena looks like fireworks going off.

A beautiful bouquet brightens the info desk.

This room is effectively a shallow pool, with a few inches of water across the stone floor making a reflective surface.

Tree ferns create a leafy roof.

A bit of fall color appears along this walk — a preview of Longwood’s Chrysanthemum Festival, which started this week?

Autumn — bring it to Texas!

A river-like pond fills one section of the conservatory.

Queen sago (Cycas circinalis) — what a regal presence. She puts our smaller sago palms in Austin to shame.

Another big cycad with yellow shrimp plant

Snake plant and shrimp plant — all kinds of animals!

This is just a small sampling of all the displays in the Longwood conservatories. But it’s time to move on…

Next up: The beautiful Italian Water Garden and playful treehouses at Longwood. For a look back at Part 1 of Longwood Gardens’ conservatories, including the conservatory’s Orchid House, Silver Garden, and living-wall restrooms, click here.

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Digging Deeper

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