This much free fun should be illegal

Finally, the follow-up to our free day at Longwood Gardens. My husband was in the middle of final papers and projects for seminary, and given the week we had that followed, being at Longwood for part of a day was a great way to relax in the midst of stress. Just walking through the doors, I could feel the worries and cares of the world  melt away. Longwood Gardens is becoming a retreat for us.

We began as we usually do, in the indoor children’s garden. Here, our kids can run around, make noise, play in the water and generally feel like they belong.

Isabelle was waiting to play with musical instruments. Corban, if you look closely, is soaked from head to toe.

Next, we took a lunch break.

The kids enjoyed our picnic in the van. Corban kept stashing his food in the side compartments near the window. I’m afraid we might be finding food for a long time.

After lunch, we headed to my favorite area of the Gardens: the Italian Water Garden.

I can’t really tell you what it is about water in a garden, but my soul is refreshed by such a combo. Corban, water-lover that he is, also appreciated it.

We took some time to wander through the outdoor flower gardens, which weren’t much to speak of when we visited in March, but were in full bloom this visit.

Phil & I started planning our tulip garden, taking a liking to these varieties.

I’ve honestly never seen so many different kinds of tulips!

Here was one of Isabelle’s favorite flowers:

Snapdragons, I think. Lovely.

Because we were on a time crunch — Phil had to go to work that afternoon — we hightailed it across the park to the outdoor children’s garden, so the kids could play a little more and, we hoped, tire themselves out for the drive home.

More water, more fun.

And, success.

A day well spent.

Return to Longwood Gardens

In the afterbirth of spring, when the world was gray, wet and gloomy but full of hope, this pop of color was a welcome sight — refreshing to the soul. We were on our second visit to Longwood Gardens, on a March day that was cooler than we’d hoped but still offered a pleasant indoor/outdoor garden experience.

This Friday, we’ll return to Longwood Gardens for our third visit, this time free, thanks to National Public Gardens Day and Better Homes and Gardens. (Click here to check if a garden near you is participating and print your FREE admission voucher.)

Since our first visit in August, I’ve wanted to return to Longwood Gardens. Our second visit didn’t disappoint in its uniqueness from the first. For one, our son is older and walking now, so he could participate in more of the children’s activities.

This is my favorite picture of our two kids in the children’s garden area:

Corban loves water, so to be able to “chase” water as it leaps along a winding path, was pure heaven for him. What fun to watch the two of them enjoy the plants. One of our best memories from this visit was Corban’s talent for falling and/or throwing himself into flower displays, causing dirt to fly. We were sure we’d be blacklisted from the gardens. But it’s a kid-friendly place, so not to worry.

In March, not much of the outdoor gardens were colorful or blooming, so we’re looking forward to seeing what spring has to offer.

But, the indoor plants made the visit worth our while. These were a few of my favorites:

My husband’s in the midst of writing final papers for the semester. My birthday and Mother’s Day are coming up. Taking a break to visit our favorite flowering sanctuary will be a treat this week.

I hope the fountains are running. The royal wedding earlier this week already put me in the England frame of mind. If I see the Italian Water Garden again, I might book a flight to my study abroad alma mater Harlaxton the next day.

If you’ve got nothing going this Friday and the weather looks favorable, I’d encourage you to participate in this generous event and experience a local garden for yourself. And if you find a good one in your area, I’d love to hear all about it!

And stay tuned for pictures and stories from our Friday visit at Longwood!

Happy spring!

A walk in the Gardens

Thursday. Our last day of “summer.” Phil’s classes started that night, so we took advantage of the half-price ticket deal we got from Groupon.com and went to Longwood Gardens (www.longwoodgardens.org), which we’ve dubbed the Biltmore of Pennsylvania. The house is no comparison, but the gardens are exquisite. The house dates back to the 1700s and the property was developed in the early 1900s by Pierre duPont (yes, THOSE duPonts!).

Our pediatrician recommended the gardens to us, so when the deal came along, we couldn’t pass it up.

We started our day in the conservatory (pictured above) because there’s a children’s garden within it. The sort of place kids are encouraged to touch things, get wet and run around. Perfect for our little girl, who was confined to the car for an hour and a half.

She could have stayed in the children’s garden all day.

Even her baby brother sort of got into it.

There are lots of water activities here, and Isabelle availed herself of all them: wetting a paintbrush to “paint” a picture on the wall; watching water “jump” across a wall; chasing water as it appeared and disappeared through a series of faucets. She drummed and shook a rattle made with seed pods. And played an insect matching game with one of the friendly docents.

We heard this a lot: “Oh, look at that.”

After she’d had her fill of the children’s garden (or maybe I should say, after we moved her along so we could see some of the other areas of the garden), we took in the rest of the conservatory. We marveled at the outdoor waterlily display and the palm house, with palm trees that seemed as tall as buildings. Then for perspective, we viewed the bonsai exhibit.

Not sure why, but this was one of my favorite parts of the day. These beautifully manicured, old, tiny trees fascinate me. Surely if I had one, I would kill it, though.

The Gardens’ current focus is on fragrance, so we browsed the perfume-making exhibit. We even got to create our own fragrance. Isabelle chose the ingredients: lemon, jasmine and vanilla, I think. The machine said it was similar to a Calvin Klein fragrance on the market. She has good, if expensive, taste, I guess.

Roses, bananas and orchids were just a few of the rest of the plants and flowers we saw in the conservatory.

After a short break for lunch (we packed a picnic that we ate in the car so as not to lose what Phil said was “a really good parking spot”) we headed toward the Peirce-duPont House. It was built by a Quaker pioneer and added on to by duPont. Mostly, it contains pictures and essays about the development of Longwood. A few furnishings, including a miniature dining room display that was one of many miniature displays in the home’s library. Mrs. duPont was a fan, apparently.

Next came treehouses. The gardens boast three. The Birdhouse was the tallest of the three, and Isabelle and her daddy climbed to the top. Lookout Loft was less high but more accessible to the stroller. Plus, there was a honeycomb display with hundreds of bees flying in and out of it. (I might add, at this point, that the camera battery died before lunch, thus the lack of afternoon pictures. Sigh.) We tried to locate the queen, who was marked with a neon dot but we were unsuccessful.

If the bonsais were my favorite part of the conservatory, then the Italian Water Garden was the highlight of the rest of the Gardens. Reminded me of the gardens at Harlaxton. I could have looked on it for the rest of the day and been content. Stunning. I had to buy a postcard to capture the memory.

The final treehouse was called Canopy Cathedral. Corban was napping by this time, so I took Isabelle to the top of this one. I never had a treehouse as a child, but the idea of a personal retreat in the trees captivates me. I felt like a kid as we climbed the stairs and looked out on the Gardens from a cathedral-like window.

As we walked on toward the flower gardens, we thirsted, or as Isabelle said, “I’m really drinky.” Abundant drinking fountains were a gift, though the weather was mild and pleasant, not too hot. We passed the topiary garden and its fun-shaped shrubs and the main fountain garden on our way to the idea garden, with more children-themed activities. Isabelle immediately spotted another fountain at her level and she splashed in the water next to other tots her size. Water periodically shot up from the fountain and Isabelle quickly learned if she put a finger over the spout, she could direct the water to spray her face and the adults standing nearby. She did this many times without tiring.

She and her daddy also explored an outdoor children’s garden shaped like a honeycomb. She ran around in the maze, sat in a queen-bee chair and lounged in a kid-size Adirondack chair.

We pulled her away from the fountain once more to check out Chimes Tower, which looks like the tower of a castle and appropriately, contains the chimes that sound the hour and partial hours throughout the garden. Near the tower is a waterfall — amazing — and something named the eye of water, which called to mind magical sorts of things like eye of newt for me. In reality it looks like its name — an eye of water that pumps thousands of gallons of water into the Gardens every day.

Phil and Isabelle wandered through the topiary garden on our way out, and we stopped to buy postcards at the visitor center, but we had to call it a day.

Sore feet and legs, tired babies, and little bit of sun — a wonderful end to our carefree days of summer.