Arts & Tradition

The Fabulous Fountains of Longwood Gardens

Larger than life: Art that inspires us through the ages
BY James Howard Smith TIMEAugust 27, 2022 PRINT

An explosion of water thrusts high into the sky, then another and another and another as a fountain at Longwood Gardens performs a beautifully choreographed dance. Industrialist Pierre du Pont purchased a small farm at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, in 1906 to preserve an old-wood arboretum of the previous owners, the Pierce family.

Over the next 20 years, he envisioned and built beautiful fountains to grace the estate in what he called a “Fountain Theater.” The Open Air Theatre debuted in 1914 for performing arts shows. Today, fountain displays delight audiences before and after the main performances take place on the stage.

Since 1914, several more garden fountains have been constructed. The five-acre Main Fountain Garden is the center display at Longwood. This was inspired by the great fountain at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Another, the Italian Water Garden, is found in a clearing within a 200-year-old wooded grove, planned as if coming upon a secret garden made by an ancient culture. Inspired by the Villa Gamberaia, near Florence, Italy, the garden was designed and constructed from 1925 to 1927 and is formed in an open geometric plan that projects a refined, peaceful atmosphere.

Longwood Gardens is a place to watch majestic fountains spring to life. The 1,077-acre destination is recognized not only for its innovative fountain displays, but also for its meadows, woodlands, conservatory, and gardens that take horticultural design to a new level. The site has brought people together in their leisure time and given them a place to contemplate and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Epoch Times Photo
This classical composition deep in a wood grove defines the Italian Water Garden, where the central, circular fountain becomes the focus, emphasized by the circular grass border. The four surrounding basins then frame the centerpiece with a rectangular form. The centrally aligned, semi-circular pond in the background then becomes a secondary focal point, drawing attention to the tallest fountain at times throughout the fountain sequence. (Courtesy of J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
Epoch Times Photo
The calm atmosphere of the broad, open Italian Water Garden becomes more apparent with the juxtaposition of the surrounding, naturally growing forest. The rows of Linden trees and pedestal fountains act to transition between the two. (Courtesy of J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
Epoch Times Photo
In the Italian Water Garden, the calm, horizontal lines of the lawn are lightly punctuated with shrubs and urns of fruit. Niches frame the wall fountains and sculpted trophies (made from limestone), establishing a rhythm below the raised viewing platform seen in the background. The light blue Italian tiles and delicately flowing fountains create an allure of pristine waters. (Courtesy of J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
Epoch Times Photo
Lawned paths lined with ivy and carved floral and fruit-filled urns lead to the central, circular fountain of the Italian Water Garden. (Courtesy of J.H.Smith/ Cartiophotos)
Epoch Times Photo
The Open Air Theatre was inspired by a visit to the “Teatro di Verzura” (“theater of greenery”) at the Villa Ginanneschi-Gori in Siena, Italy. In both, the garden forms the theater. Tall hedges become the walls and hide the side stage, forming theater “wings” for the performers to emerge from. (Courtesy of Grace Khmelev)
Epoch Times Photo
This epic fountain centerpiece of the Main Fountain Garden is animated with sculptured fountains rising up from the formal boxwood gardens. The raised stage is centered around the three arched loggias, an outdoor room that opens to the garden. (Courtesy of J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
Epoch Times Photo
The broad, open lawns and formal gardens create a calm atmosphere, providing further emphasis on the energetic and artful fountain displays at the Main Fountain Garden. (Courtesy of J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
Epoch Times Photo
Sculptures and bas-reliefs send out gentle spurts of water to delight visitors while they explore the Main Fountain Garden. (Courtesy of Grace Khmelev)
Epoch Times Photo
The stage wall at the Main Fountain Garden is decorated with sculptures and urns made of limestone, set into arched niches, and elegantly ornamented with French Baroque details. The uplifting effect aims to elevate the performance experience. (Courtesy of Grace Khmelev)
Epoch Times Photo
The mechanical fountain system is revealed here, with 1,719 water jets in the Main Fountain Garden. The most powerful jets project water as high as 175 feet into the sky. The mechanical pump systems were upgraded for the fountains in 1992. (Courtesy of J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
Epoch Times Photo
Similar to a fireworks display, rolling choreographed fountain performances ignite the space during the evening at the Main Fountain Garden. (Courtesy of J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
Epoch Times Photo
During the Festival of Fountains, Longwood creates a light and music show three nights per week that’s controlled by a computer. The lights shine in reds, blues, yellows, greens, and whites. Folks with lawn chairs stake out their position early to watch the colorfully-illuminated fountains come alive and dance in sync with musical accompaniment. (Courtesy of J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
Epoch Times Photo
The fountain performances illuminate, uplift, and inspire the young and the old alike. (Courtesy of J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
James Howard Smith, an architectural photographer, designer, and founder of Cartio, aims to inspire an appreciation of classic architecture.
You May Also Like