A Longwood Retrospective. Part Two: Conservatory and Onboarding

So vast are the outside gardens at Longwood that closing time loomed before I’d even had a chance to visit the Conservatory. Covering a whopping 7 acres with myriad different garden styles and plant types, the conservatory was the part of the gardens I had heard most about and that I was most excited to visit.

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I certainly wasn’t disappointed: if I was impressed by the beauty and the standard of the gardens outside I was utterly blown away by what I found indoors!

This is the view which greeted me as I walked through the great doors into the East Conservatory; breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe it. As you’ll see in my future blogs I spent most of my four months at Longwood working in the conservatory and, although the seasonal planting here was replaced, tweaked and modified several times during my time here, these are the images that are brought to mind when my thoughts wander back to ‘The Conservatory’.

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The East Conservatory later in the summer, full of colourful Cannas.

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That said, the East is only my second favourite part of the conservatory. My favourite is the main conservatory, where tree ferns ‘float’ on a sunken, flooded floor and Hydrangeas are suspended from the ceiling in the Exhibition Hall, while in the adjacent Orangery grass grows lush and green beneath the citrus trees. Planting in this part of the conservatory is bright, flamboyant, arresting, and ever-changing. Indeed, many of the seasonal plants are replaced after only 3-4 weeks of being planted, such is the attention to detail and the desire to maintain a picture perfect display for guests. The photos below were taken across my four months at Longwood, so show this part of the conservatory as I saw it on my first day as well as the many changes to the planting in the borders I witnessed during my time there.

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Looking back at my photographs I realise that I may have proclaimed my favourite area too soon, as there are so many other beautiful areas within the conservatory walls.

The Silver Garden is a definite favourite…

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…as is the Acacia Passage, especially towards the end of summer when the Acacia had regrown from the hard spring pruning.

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Another personal favourite is the Fern Passage, abundant with seemingly every shade of green and texture imaginable.

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And who could fail to be impressed by the magnificent green wall, which at 14 feet high and 300 feet long is the largest in North America?

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Or enchanted by the verdant green of the Tropical Terrace, with its curtain of Tillandsia?

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In the centre of the Conservatory complex are the outdoor lily pools; at their best in mid- to late summer, when the Victoria lilies for which Longwood is famed reach their pinnacle of perfection.

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Whilst back indoors there is the Estate Fruit House, the Palm House, the Rose House, the Orchid House, a Cascade Garden, a Mediterranean Garden, and a Bonsai Display amongst other exhibits still to enjoy.

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Not to mention the extraordinarily witty and playful Indoor Children’s Garden, which genuinely made me wish I was a good twenty years younger so I could splashing around with the water and crawling through the grotto without raising quite so many eyebrows.

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My first ‘rotation’ at Longwood was due to be the Conservatory but while I was excited to get stuck in my enthusiasm had to wait as a group of students from RHS Wisley were visiting Longwood Gardens in the first part of the week and Doug had thoughtfully signed Phil and I up to join them in the various tours and talks they were due to receive. Oh, and we were treated to a couple of lovely lunches and dinners with them too! That weekend we were joined on the Row by the first of two groups of summer interns and the following week was taken up with Longwood’s long (five days!) and thorough ‘onboarding’ (Longwoodian for ‘induction’) procedure, where we received talks and were given tours by various departments and we received electric cart training and First Aid training. This is the only image I took that week: quite a disturbing one, I think you’ll agree…

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As an international student I had also to partake in a driving lesson that week; now that I finally had my international driving license in hand (long story, don’t ask!) I needed to have my driving declared roadworthy so that I could book out a Longwood vehicle and gain a little independence. During my first couple of weeks I’d been reliant on other students for lifts to the grocery store, which on one occasion had prompted me to walk the 2 ½ miles along the sidewalk-less busy roads to Walmart to save having to ask for a lift, much to the vexation of a couple of the students who seemed genuinely hurt that I hadn’t wanted to trouble them and who also pointed out that much as I enjoy walking it’s not the safest route along which to stroll.

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