Pierre S. du Pont’s 1931 Main Fountain Garden at Longwood Gardens combined the cutting-edge technology of his time with classical European design. Now, after a two-year, $90 million revitalization project, the fountains have been reawakened in a way that honors du Pont’s engineering legacy and his artistic flair, creating the sort of magical sensory experience Longwood’s founder would’ve adored.
The visitor experience has been greatly elevated—literally, as new jets spout 175 feet in the air, 45 feet higher than the old ones. But it’s not
just the altitude that makes jaws drop. Custom nozzles shoot, spray and spout water into basket-weave bouquets and other seemingly impossible shapes. Precisely choreographed fountains dance, flex and spin, thanks to a state-of-the-art fountain control computer system. Energy-efficient LEDs illuminate the cascades in colors ranging from the palest pastels to the most saturated jewel tones.
And there’s fire. “These aren’t run-of-the-mill torches,” says Jim Garland, AIA, principal at Fluidity Design Consultants, a Los Angeles-based water feature design and engineering firm that was a key player in the project. “Fire comes up in tiny bubbles so the flame is on top of a jet of water. It’s primal and theatrical.”
The bold renovation is the largest project Longwood Gardens has undertaken since du Pont’s death in 1954. “Adaptive restoration” was the overarching theme that guided thousands of design and technology decisions. “Our founder, Pierre S. du Pont, created the Main Fountain Garden for the enjoyment and delight of his guests at Longwood,” says Paul Redman, Longwood Gardens’ president and CEO. “Over the past eight decades, they’ve become a beloved part of our grounds.
“The Gardens and its board of trustees have been planning for the revitalization of these iconic fountains for many years now. We are preserving Mr. du Pont’s legacy—and adding to it.”
Along with the complete replacement of the fountains’ dated electric and plumbing infrastructure, many other enhancements have been made to the five-acre area. Specialists painstakingly restored the original hand-carved Italian limestone reliefs and fountains, including the wall-mounted fixtures that line the south wall (an area that had been closed to the public for more than 20 years). Enhanced pathways, an elaborate boxwood hedge and inviting alleés mean better visitor access. All of the upgrades—as well as new plantings, for some horticultural pizzazz —ensure that the Main Fountain Garden will retain its reputation as the jewel in the country’s most significant fountain collection.
The wow factor of the fountains is unsurpassed, but perhaps the most surprising result of Longwood’s thoughtful restoration is the creation of some delightful new spaces where you can relax, reflect and explore. A brand-new feature gives guests access to a unique garden experience. Entering the Grotto through passageways on either side of the loggia, visitors discover a tranquil space with a central hall containing a circular water curtain wall and an oculus that admits natural light. There is also a trellis bridge connecting to the Fountain Terrace, a lovely spot from which to view the surrounding gardens. New seating offers comfortable places to sit and marvel.
The Main Fountain Garden is the perfect union of old and new. History is respected while innovation is embraced. The renovated Pump House Lobby showcases the machinery that powered the fountains from 1931 to 2014. It’s astonishing to look at those toggle switches and levers and realize how much pageantry engineer-impresario Pierre S. du Pont pulled off in Longwood’s early fountain shows. Summer of Spectacle honors his vision to combine technology with artistry in ways that he could hardly have imagined. Prepare to be amazed.
Summer of Spectacle runs through Sept. 30. Fountain shows daily; 30-minute illuminated evening fountain displays set to music Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 9:15 p.m. Fireworks & Fountains July 2 and 22, Aug. 12, and Sept. 2 and 16. There’s also a full calendar of performing arts events, tours and classes. Longwood Gardens, 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, (610) 388-1000, www.longwoodgardens.org.