Did you know April is National Garden Month? Celebrate the arrival of warmer weather and the first of the spring blooms with a grand tour of the fabulous botanical gardens located within Greater Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley.
Make a full weekend of it, spending the night in Chateau Country, checking out some of Wilmington’s top-rate dining options, and exploring the back roads and byways that connect these Instagram-worthy sites, all within a short drive of one other.
Start the tour at Rockwood Park, just off I-95 in north Wilmington. Though not as well known as some of the area’s other gardens, the 72 acres of grounds surrounding the rural Gothic-style Rockwood Mansion are sublime. Unique features include a monkey puzzle tree (an unusual-looking evergreen native to Chile); a ha-ha (a sunken wall used to keep livestock away); and a stone from the Giant’s Causeway, a distinctive hexagonal rock formation along Ireland’s coast. And don’t miss the sensory friendly apothecary garden, added in fall 2019. Filled with medicinal plants and an amazing water feature, this was the first addition to the gardens since the museum’s dedication in 1976.
Since the founding of the DuPont Company on the banks of the Brandywine River in 1802, the du Pont family has had a profound impact on Delaware. The family’s strong interest in horticultural preservation is reflected in the next five stops on the tour.
Hagley Museum & Library, on Route 141, is the site of the original DuPont gunpowder mills. Its gardens are as much about function as they are about form. The estate, on the banks of the Brandywine River, is home to two very different restored gardens dating back to the 1800s: one that fed the du Pont family and another that fed company workers. Alongside the restored gardens lies a pollinator garden, new to the attraction for 2020. The beautiful new addition is designed to draw a variety of butterflies and bees.
Nemours Estate is approximately two miles up Route 141 from Hagley. Its French-style gardens, inspired by Versailles, are among the finest and largest of their kind in the U.S. There's a formal boxwood garden and a maze dominated by a sculpture gilded in 23-karat gold leaf. The one-acre reflecting pool features 157 jets and holds 800,000 gallons of water. Two gold leaf gates face each other across the garden. The Baroque-style Russian gate was acquired from a palace built by Catherine the Great. The English gate was once used at Wimbledon Manor. In addition to the formal gardens, there are family-friendly woodland walking trails to explore. Nemours opens for the season May 1.
Approximately five miles north of Nemours is Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, off Route 52. Winterthur features 1,000 acres of rolling hills, streams, meadows and forests. A favorite of the young and young at heart is the fairytale-like Enchanted Woods. From the Faerie Cottage to the Tulip treehouse, it is a realm of pure fantasy. Another stand-out is the Marian Coffin-designed reflecting pool, a series of descending terraces and views ending in what was once the family swimming pool. From April into May, the Azalea Woods, with its thousands of Kurume azaleas and wildflowers weaved through the forest, is a must see.
Continuing north on Route 52, just over the Pennsylvania state line, in the Brandywine Valley, is the nationally renowned Longwood Gardens. It is home to 11,000 varieties of plants spread across more than 1,000 acres of meadows, woodlands, and elaborate horticultural displays. In the four-acre Conservatory, don’t miss the Wood’s Cycad. Called Longwood’s “King of the Conservatory,” this palm tree-like plant is extinct in nature and one of the rarest plants in the world. The gardens’ majestic fountains are another awe-inspiring feature. Major renovations were completed in May 2017, adding new water cannons to project spray high into the air as well as new sound, light, and synchronization features.
The final stop on the tour is Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware. Opened for general admission to the public in 2013, it is home to more than 1,000 native plants, many of which are threatened by extinction. On the gently rolling hills of the Delaware Piedmont, part of the Appalachian Mountain system, it consists of 630 acres of historic pastures, fields, ponds, native forests, a woodland wildflower garden, and formal landscapes. One notable feature is the trillium garden, containing every trillium species native to the eastern U.S. April is a great time to celebrate the beauty of Wilmington’s native gardens during the center's springtime festival: Wildflower Celebration. Catch a colorful display of bliss among the native wildflowers that begin to bloom with the first sign of Spring weather.
Plan Your #VisitWilm Garden Getaway
The botanical gardens of Greater Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley are as varied as the region itself. From formal garden designs to wild meadows and forests filled with native plant life, a garden tour of the area is memorable way to welcome spring and celebrate National Garden Month. For more garden-themed attractions as well as restaurants, unique shopping, and accommodations to complete the trip, download our digital visitors guide.