Holiday Wonderland for Kids at Longwood Gardens

People travel from all over the country to see the holiday extravaganza at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Valley just north of Wilmington, Delaware. One of America’s best-known show gardens, Longwood is a knock-out for families in any season, from its April extravaganza of tulips to its chrysanthemum show in October.

But even better than these, each year, from late November through early January, A Longwood Christmas transforms the 1,077-acre gardens into a magical fairyland of lights, music, dancing fountains and brilliant floral displays. Melding horticulture, nature and the arts with inspired use of lighting, Longwood Gardens becomes pure magic, especially in the late afternoon and evening.

Night lighting, Longwood Gardens © Stillman Rogers

Night lighting, Longwood Gardens © Stillman Rogers

There is plenty to entertain children. The Topiary Garden catches their attention with dozens of yew trees trained and pruned into cones, pyramids, spheres and layered disks. At the Garden Railway, model trains coast through a miniature landscape alive with twinkling lights. The three fire pits, good places to warm up all day, are especially welcome when the December chill sets in after sunset.

Longwood Gardens are not all about outdoor horticulture and show gardens. The four-acre Conservatory was built by the original DuPont owners to grow tropical fruits year-round. Today, the soaring glass structure is a showcase of floral art and exotic plants, with displays that change with the seasons. It is particularly splendid at Christmas, filled with masses of red and white poinsettias, set against a backdrop of lush tropical foliage. Each year the displays are different in the main Conservatory and Exhibition Hall, but it may include a large pool filled with a brilliant mosaic of floating fruits or flowers.

In the East Conservatory, decorated Christmas trees stand at either end of a long pool, surrounded by tropical shrubs, trees and flowers. Paths lead through this tropical setting and lead to smaller garden rooms. One is the charming Indoor Children’s Garden, a magical place of leafy secret rooms, miniature grottos, animal and bird fountains and surprising discoveries.

Poinsettia decorations Longwood Gardens © Stillman Rogers

Poinsettia decorations Longwood Gardens © Stillman Rogers

On the opposite side of the Conservatory are smaller (by comparison to the soaring showcase halls) greenhouses each with its own theme — the Rose House, Fern Passage, Cascade Garden, Palm House, Tropical Terrace, Mediterranean Garden, Silver Garden and houses dedicated to orchids, bananas and tropical fruits. After the overwhelming impression of the larger halls, these “little” garden greenhouses allow kids to get close to plants, feel their textures and smell the roses.

Visit by day to stroll through the outdoor gardens and spend time in the Conservatory. Be sure to get your “return” stamp when you leave, and bring the kids back at night to step into a whole new world. The trees and arbors are swathed in colored lights and more lights play on the fountains as they dance in time to music. After 3:30 p.m. the fountain shows are almost continuous, with water spouts rising and falling in time to the music, and changing colors in a perfectly choreographed performance. Children are not the only spectators that stand wide-eyed. The spectacle is enchanting for any age.

Longwood Gardens is in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, about 12 miles from Wilmington, Delaware, and 30 from Philadelphia. Before you leave, take time to do a little Christmas shopping in the Garden Shop, where you’ll find holiday decorations, gardening books and unique presents for all ages.