- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. — Tall palm fronds reach through the balmy air toward the sunlight, just yards from fuzzy ferns dripping with humidity and an exotic fruit garden where kumquats grow in bright orange bursts.

Just another winter’s day in Pennsylvania?

It is for visitors at the renowned and historic Longwood Gardens, where guests this year are being treated to a yearlong birthday party.

Longwood is turning 100, and although the official anniversary isn’t until July, visitors will be celebrating with every new bud that comes into bloom, indoors and out.

“The main theme for the centennial is layers,” says Amy Shearer, a Longwood spokeswoman. “It’s structured to give everyone the opportunity to enjoy the festivities many times throughout the year.”

The first layer is the plant life. Longwood will host eight horticultural displays throughout the year, corresponding roughly with the different seasons of flora.

That way, even in winter and early spring, when most of the trees are still bare, visitors can enjoy the best the gardens have to offer.

A “Welcome Spring” display, running through April 7 and housed in Longwood’s four acres of heated greenhouses, provides visitors with all the midyear blossoms the outside world will have to wait months to see.

Indeed, it’s easy to forget the blustery weather outside when surrounded by the tulips, lilies, daffodils and, most welcome, spring temperatures in the conservatories.

An ardor for arbors inspired industrialist Pierre S. du Pont to purchase an arboretum 30 miles southwest of Philadelphia that later would become Longwood Gardens. He bought it to save trees he knew were headed otherwise for the sawmill, and in the century since its purchase, du Pont’s land has blossomed into a 1,050-acre expanse.

Longwood’s 20 indoor and 20 outdoor gardens attract about 800,000 visitors a year.

This year, those visitors will be able to partake in some special birthday revelry.

Centennial events make up the second layer of celebrations ? from child-friendly family days this month to a day for seniors early next month.

During the clematis celebration this month, Raymond Evison, an authority on the flowers, will coax them to grow out of season — from baskets, up obelisks and around spiral frames.

For Mother’s Day weekend, May 12 through 14, orchid vendors from throughout the United States and South America will arrive at Longwood for a judged orchid show and symposium.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Orchid Society will kick off the event by introducing a ruffled flower with a light fragrance and a yellow center — a new strain of Cattleya orchid the society bred itself and will dub the Alice B. du Pont, after Longwood’s first lady.

Summer visitors won’t want to miss the three-day Founder’s Day festival July 20 through 22, when concerts, fountain shows, a 1920s-style picnic and a ticketed fireworks show will commemorate the actual date (July 20, 1906) of du Pont’s purchase.

Layer No. 3 of the centennial celebrations comes in the form of artistic and educational exhibitions, starting with a “Longwood Through the Lens” photography show that runs through April 16. The show features photos of the gardens taken over the past year by members of the Chester County Camera Club.

In conjunction with the orchid symposium, visitors to the gardens April 22 through May 21 can view paintings and charcoal sketches of orchids in the “Orchids in Contemporary Art” exhibit.

With all the centennial novelties, guests shouldn’t forget to stop and smell another attraction that comes in layers — the conservatory’s terraced rose garden, where bright yellow flowers stand proud above descending lines of reds, whites and pinks.

• • •

Longwood Gardens: 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, Pa.; call 610/388-1000 or visit www.longwoodgardens.org.

Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through March, until 6 p.m. from April 1 through October, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31. Admission is $12 or $14 for adults, depending on the season, $6 for persons 16 to 20 and $2 for children 2 to 15.

Longwood is on U.S. Route 1, about three miles northeast of Kennett Square, about 110 miles from the District. Detailed driving directions are on the Web site. By Amtrak, go to the Wilmington, Del., station, and then take a taxi (about $30 one way) or rent a car.

The Philadelphia International Airport is 25 miles away; rent a car or take a $30 airport shuttle, 800/648-5466.

Coming events include:

March 25: Rainbow fish family day.

April 4: Seniors day with swing concerts.

April 12 through 21: Easter display with spring bulbs, breakfast with Easter Bunny and egg hunt.

April 22: Crabgrass Puppet Theatre’s “Bremen Town Musicians” family day.

April 22 through May 21: “Orchids in Contemporary Art” painting exhibit.

April 24 through 29: Arbor Week, with guided tours and tree care demonstrations.

May 12 through 14: Mother’s Day orchid show, sale and symposium.

July 20 through 22: Founder’s Day fireworks, fountain shows, concerts and picnic.

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