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A Christmas Trip to Longwood Gardens

Not all trips are created equal. This is even true with bus trips provided by the same company. My trip to Longwood Gardens was my mom’s fourth, my third, and Dad’s second trip via Wolf’s Bus Line. It would seem likely that they’d be similar, but I felt that they were very different.

This time our trip started around 12:00 PM which was a big improvement from last time. It gave me a chance to get on the computer in the morning before we left. It let my mom sleep in. Our last trip started early in the morning. We had to get up in the middle of the night to head to the bus stop in York Springs. We weren’t big fans of that. Also concerning the trip to the gardens, the guide wasn’t at all annoying by talking too much. We had two stops to make this trip to pick up passengers: one in Hanover and one in York. The Hanover stop was at the shopping complex at the corner of Wilson Avenue and Eisenhower Drive that housed such stores as Staples and Lowes. The bus driver made a joke about stopping at Lowes for people to purchase pre-decorated Christmas trees, if desired. The York stop was at the Sheraton parking lot as last time. However, one of the ladies asked if we were stopping there for the night before heading to our destination. Hee, Hee! A funny joke.

This bus driver told us a little about himself. Before being a bus driver for Wolf’s, he was an Agriculture teacher at the high school in York Springs. He had his students do some advanced work such as graft poinsettias, and grow plants in conditions as if they were in outer space. He had taken students on field trips to the gardens numerous times. One student even was an intern at the gardens. There were also long stretches where the bus driver and the guide said nothing. This allowed people to read, nap, or chat.

Closer to our destination, we were given information about Longwood Gardens. They had three locales for food. They were all pricey. The Gardens offered a sit-down restaurant, a café, and a beer garden. We were told about the famous mushroom soup offered at all of the restaurants. For those who don’t know, the garden is located in the heart of mushroom country, Kennett Square. They also had tasty macaroni and cheese. Everyone was given a map. We were guided along the most ideal path through the garden. For people who were afraid of running out of time, we were told we had plenty of time to tour everything. We were advised to spend plenty of time at the conservatory. Dancing water jets, and the Dupont house were other places suggested.

When we arrived at our destination, we gathered at the entrance. This spot was where we were supposed to meet when finished. We needed to be back at the bus by 8:15 PM. Anyone who wanted to come back early could; the guide would be there waiting. They also had a gift shop. Word to the wise, don’t leave the gardens until you’re ready to leave. The tickets are one way. Once you re-enter the building with the gift shop, you can’t go back to the gardens.

The gift shop had a strong scent to it. They had a few lit-up trees. Mom found a pricey Christmas ornament she liked, but didn’t buy. They had a book on trees that looked interesting which was twenty dollars.

Our first goal when entering the gardens was to eat at the café. We wanted to beat the crowd and we were hungry. We arrived in the late afternoon so it wasn’t dark yet. Longwood Gardens did have their Christmas lights turned on by then. The first thing I noticed once inside, was a line of deciduous trees covered with green Christmas lights. I stopped to take a picture of one of them to make sure I got a picture. Of course, they would show up better at night, but it’s sometimes harder to get good pictures when it is dark. There was also a path lined with trees with blue lights. These were reminiscent of the blue Christmas trees from back when I was a child. They were even conifers. A major difference was the number of trees.

The café was a cafeteria. People picked up their trays, and entered the line. Food in containers could be picked up, and placed on trays. Drinks were offered in both a refrigerator case as well as fountain drinks. I chose to have chicken strips, macaroni and cheese, a roll, and a soda. Mom wanted to try some of their delicious mushroom soup. A basic meal for three was seventy-four dollars! The first seating area we came to was full. These tables had poinsettias as centerpieces. We sat at a table in a tent. These tables had little Christmas trees in the center. I quite enjoyed these centerpieces.

The next stop was the beer garden. On the way to the café, I saw what we thought was the beer garden. It wasn’t the place to eat as it only offered pizza. The garden did have an interesting beer on tap, a stout. I had one of them while Dad had a light lager. Though I enjoy craft beers, Dad prefers lighter beers. Mom had hot chocolate. We went in the Conservatory. They had many types of plants on display. They had large plants like trees including some decorated for Christmas, smaller plants such as ferns, as well as flowers. A special route was designated through the building for those who wanted to see their Christmas displays. Almost everything was lit up.

In the one room, the landscape reminded me of something from Disney’s Frozen. This is logical as the park’s theme this year was “Fire and Ice.” The water appeared to be frozen, although it wasn’t. Icicles made of lights were hanging from the ceiling. They also had Christmas trees with white lights, which was reminiscent of trees covered in snow.

Here’s a neat idea for schools. The one room had a series of Christmas trees with all decorations made by children. Each tree was decorated by a different school. One had ornaments made by cutting and pasting white paper plates to form beautiful animals. Another room had Longwood Garden’s famous “Green Wall.” The gardens had a hallway in which the walls on both sides were covered with plants. On the way to the wall, we saw what Mom thought was the Green Wall. This was a wall made with flowers. It’s understanding why a person might think this was the wall. It wasn’t. The Green Wall was actually two long walls covered with green leafy plants. They weren’t flowering.

It became completely dark. Outside the Conservatory we found the water jets. They were lit in various colors. Every so many minutes the jets were synced to music. Since we went during the Christmas season, they were synced to Christmas music. I had seen the “ice” part of the garden’s theme. I wondered what the fire part may be. Here’s the answer. The water jets disappeared into the air like flames. When they were lit colors such as red, they really looked like fire plumes. Next we came to the green and blue deciduous trees which I took time to take pictures of.

It was time to visit the beautiful du Pont house. We started by watching two short shows. The first one was a very brief introduction to the gardens. The second show though longer talked about the du Pont family, and the purpose of the gardens. For your information, yes, he is the same du Pont that had the chemicals. He also had an interest in plants. The gardens were actually started as some very old trees that were slated to be felled. Pierre S. du Pont bought the land to save the trees, which was the start of what is now Longwood Gardens.

After the show we toured the house. We only toured the main floor. The upstairs was roped off. That area is currently used for office space. Besides glimpsing into what the house was like when he lived there, we also saw a diagram showing the progression of how the house was built. The house was built a little at a time. Much of it, was built later. We were also aware that cats wandered the premises. If we didn’t see any, we could ask a worker who could help us find one. Though we didn’t see one for most of the tour, we found one in a corner at the very end. Plus, we saw water dishes near the exit.

While touring the house, Mom and I noticed a beautiful tree with colored lights around the back of the house. We wanted to get a closer look at it after we were done in the house. We followed the path behind the house to get a look at the tree. I also saw tower like structures covered with lights. We decided to continue to follow the path beyond the tree and towers. I saw another tree with green lights in the distance which I thought was one of the trees we had seen towards the beginning, but I don’t think it was. Back on the path was a long tunnel covered in Christmas lights. I thought it was cool! During our trek we were trying to decide if we should turn around or follow the path. I thought it would wrap its way around the du Pont house, and take the person back to the front. It obviously went somewhere as people were coming towards us from that direction. I was wrong; the path led to the entrance of the gardens. This is where a person would have gone if they turned right after entering the gardens instead of either straight towards the café or left down the path lined with the green trees.

We still had one more attraction to see. The garden had a railway. The guide told us about it on the bus on the way to Longwood. Having traversed most of the gardens, and not coming across the display we asked where the railroad was. It wasn’t far from the restaurants. The railroad was like a larger version of a train set. There was a larger scale track with tunnels, trees and other small plants. A few of the trees had Christmas lights. The gardens had several trains that traveled along the tracks. I thought it was a neat display.

It was getting late so we headed to the entrance building to wait. We looked at the gift shop a little more before wanting to find a place to sit. We couldn’t find the seats in the waiting area we were told about on the bus (the building had been remodeled!) It was also hot and crowded. Mom wasn’t comfortable with all the people in there in a small space. Neither was I. We went outside to wait for a little while where it felt nice. We were planning on going back inside close to 8:15, so we could get counted when the driver came. The catch. We saw the driver walking towards us as we were sitting, and he told us we could go ahead and get on the bus. It was already warmed up and comfortable. We stood up, and went to the bus. Since people were returning early, we left earlier than planned which was nice. The ride back to York Springs was long, though it was nice to sit again after all that walking.

When comparing the two trips that Dad, Mom and I took on Wolf’s Bus Line, I certainly enjoyed this trip better. I thoroughly enjoyed Longwood’s half a million Christmas lights (I absolutely love Christmas lights!) We also had enough time to see everything. The trip starting later was another plus. Longwood Gardens was a nice introduction to the Christmas Season this year.

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