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Autumn Afternoon at Longwood Gardens

longwood-gardens-gazebo closeLongwood Gardens, one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the United States, is a popular destination for visitors in the spring and winter holidays. One of my favorite memories is the skating performances, set in a snow-covered backdrop with colored lights reflecting on the ice.

I couldn’t imagine how the autumn season could complete with the holiday display, but every path through the garden offered beautiful vistas and colorful flowers. On this clear October afternoon, I walked by two lakes, through the meadows, into the woods, over to the train display and inside the conservatory. Even though the parking lot was filled with cars, over 1,000 acres allows visitors to explore the many sites without crowds.

Several months ago I visited Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, where G-scale model trains and trolley cars ran along a quarter-mile of track through a magical garden setting. Longwood Gardens has built a similar display incorporating colorful plants and water features into their train layout.

Given the number of bulbs and gardeners working on the plantings, that display should be spectacular come spring time.

Longwood Gardens bulbs

Morris Arboretum and the Summer Garden Railroad

Swan Pond

Swan Pond

For over a year, I’d been planning an outing to the Morris Arboretum, and finally after a late start, drove down PA 476 to the northwest corner of Philadelphia to the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of the 92-acre garden. Ignoring the heat at around 90 degrees, the high humidity and thunder clouds threatening in the distance, I considered these positive circumstances–no crowds!

The gardens were set high on a hilltop, providing lovely views of the surrounding forest landscape. The gardens, modeled after the English park style, featured wide paths that wound past a swan pond, rustic cabin, stone buildings and sculpture exhibit. Sounds of water trickling along the creek offered a soothing and cooling atmosphere in the summer heat.

Much of the park is shaded, and I kept to those paths that offered relief from the direct sun. I strolled along the 450-foot raised walkway, built from recycled metal and wood, and which soars to 50 feet at the highest point through the treetops. Rope netting hung like hammocks where visitors could just lay back and gaze at canopy overhead. A gigantic bird nest made from tree branches provided benches to sit and ponder the three large blue “eggs” resting in the center.

The Garden Railway

My fascination with trains is what really brought me to this garden. G-scale trains and trolley cars run along a quarter-mile of track through a magical garden setting. The entire display, including all the buildings, are constructed from natural materials, everything from bark to seeds. Rivers and waterfalls flow through the miniature town, which includes replicas of famous Philadelphia landmarks such as Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross House. Each building was a masterpiece, with intricate detailing in the doors and windows. The whimsical chicken train glided along to accompanying music, what else but the chicken song, and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile even carried a bottle of mustard. I lingered for quite a while in the railroad garden, as the miniature recreation offered so much to enjoy.

A thunder-storm rumbled through the hills, driving me back to my car. With many other gardens to visit–the rock wall, rose and water gardens and Japanese Overlook–I know I will return, perhaps during the holidays, when evergreens, holly boughs and twinkle lights decorate the train scape.

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