Sunshine beckoned, and we followed. It was a “cool-blue-gold” autumn day, ideal for a turn through Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The Chrysanthemum Festival is a no-miss November event. The Orangery, or conservatory, bursts into a lush spectacle.
The festival tangibly reveals Asian sensibility. The art is pure, with more than 80,000 blossoms nurtured and trained into aesthetic forms.
John Alex Floyd, Jr., PhD—former editor-in-chief and longtime dean of horticulture at Southern Living—urged this sojourn when I moved to Delaware. Although nestled in the historic Brandywine Valley of southern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware, Longwood Gardens is a yearly hot spot in the magazine. Southerners can’t resist its renowned museums and gardens. Neither can the world. The linguistic music of French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Arabic, and more languages fell upon my delighted ears as I strolled among shields, spirals, cascades, balls, and chandeliers. The common language: “Ahhh!”
Dr. Floyd would have proven a most welcome walking companion, sharing compelling botanical details and the long history of these blooms. But he was in Sweet Home Alabama, so I gloried in garden bliss solo, stooping, gazing upward and downward, glancing side to side, stepping backward and forward, and then rounding again my beaten path. I covered 4 acres in a fleeting four hours.
Despite this homage to Asian perfection, my thoughts turned to Alexander Pope, the 18th-century English poet and passionate gardener. (He penned “The Rape of the Lock,” a mock-epic, either a delicious bite or literary irritation, depending on your brush with a general-ed English syllabus.) Longwood Gardens’ choreographed plant spectacular of colors, shapes, patterns, and textures embodies all that Mr. Pope prized in nature and reflected in his poetry: elegance, harmony, and balance.
A couple of Mr. Pope’s lines echo the setting: “Where order in variety we see,/And where, though all things differ, all agree.”—Epistle to Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington (l. 15–16)
Other foliage interspersed among the chrysanthemums heightened the joy—from grand-scale creations to miniature peeping delights. A surprise bird of paradise perched amid the splendor.
The crown jewel of the festival is the 1,000-bloom chrysanthemum. Only a few individuals practice the ancient art. It is a triumph of architecture, horticultural expertise, and brilliant design technique. The story unfolds every autumn.
“If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow chrysanthemums.”—Chinese proverb