Longwood Gardens and the mythical Kennet Collection

My first day in Pennsylvania had me visiting the botanical garden know as Longwood Gardens, and the amazing private collection called The Kennet Collection. Now, Longwood Gardens is easy to get to, it’s a public place, but the Kennet Collection requires a special invitation from the owner. I have Jim Doyle, the owner of Nature’s Way in Harrisburg, to thank for finagling an invitation, as well as Erick Schmidt, for bugging Jim in the first place. Let’s start with the pics from Longwood, and then to the magical Kennet. 

Longwood Gardens used to be the weekend residence of Pierre S. DuPont, of the DuPont and Nemours family fame. He was 36 when he bought the property, which was a proto-public arboretum at the time that was started by the Pierce Brothers, called Pierce’s Park. It was a public park until about 1906, when the heirs had sold it and all the trees were slated to be felled for lumber. Pierre found out about it and bought the property. And that was just the beginning. 
They just recently refurbished these fountains. Pierre started with this area way back when. While we were there they had a show where the water jets were synced with music. Pretty cool show. 

The trees are old and majestic. I particularly liked the deciduous look to this conifer. But I’m an iconoclast too, remember. 

Speaking of deciduous trees, take a look at this American elm. 
I can’t believe that it’s still alive this far north. Especially with this huge wound. 
There’s this disease called “Dutch Elm Disease” that has decimated the native elms in the USA. 
Elms were a special part of early American life, lining city streets and populating almost every front yard, then an introduced fungus (in lumber used for building houses after WWI, believe it or not), from Europe (originally from Asia though) that is spread by european bark beetles, began killing trees by the thousands. If you’re interested , here’s a good link to read more about the history of the disease. 
Seeing this old elm was a treat. They’re one of my favorite species. 
We have American elms in Florida (the binomial name is ulmus americana. Some people believe that there is a unique cultivar called “floridana” but DNA research shows it’s the same as the species. But they do grow differently down here; smaller, with smaller leaves, so it’s really not too big a mistake to have given it its own varietal name, but with DNA evidence, many plants and trees are being renamed and reclassified and the old timers just don’t like it. And this is one example.  I think it’s funny that there’s pushback, because the renaming process is using real scientific techniques instead of just opinions, like they used to use, and these old timers think it’s a personal insult. They get all huffy and puffy saying things like “I don’t know why they gotta change everything….” next thing you know they’ll be telling everyone to “….get off my damn lawn you whippersnappers!” 

Here’s a tree I can’t grow. It’s a beech. 

This is what a deciduous tree should look like. 
It’s also why I prefer deciduous and tropicals to conifers. You don’t get root spreads like that on a juniper. 

The property has some huge conservatories, bigger than the houses actually. 
Bananas, and pentas, above, and inside, I was greeted by some shady ladies……not those kind, the tree. What they used to call bucida bursera, which was an incorrect name, it’s proper name is terminalia bursera. But, again, people don’t “believe” it yet. The conservatory was like going home to Florida. Bird of paradise, bromeliads, palm trees, all kinds of plants from the tropics. 

Here’s a “hedge” of ficus microcarpa. 
The same leaf shape as the so-called ginseng ficus (which is just a marketing name for a seedling ficus microcarpa) 

Hanging aerial roots. 

Those vines going up the columns are bougies. 

They’re old vines, the bark is the most gnarly I’ve seen. 

I’m not sure if it’s a characteristic of the variety or just age. 

I was impressed by them nonetheless. 

Looks like an old pine tree, almost. 

Another feature that Longwood is famous for are the water lillies. 


But enough of that. You’re not here to look at regular plants. You want to see the Bonsai collection. 
Well then, here you go: 

They were all under glass, inside,  which may surprise you, but you can actually grow bonsai inside. It’s not easy but, as you will see, it can be done. 

What is amazing to me with these trees are the ages. 
Some of these would be examples of some of the first bonsai started and cultivated in the USA. 

Some are surely imports. And they do have a very classic styling and proportion to them. 

But some are very modern. This was my favorite. A hinoki cypress. 
What’s interesting is that the collection received two hinokis at the same time. The one above and……It’s hard to see but, right behind the greenhouse, towering over it, is the other one. Full sized and big. 

Some of the deciduous were looking rough, it being August. 

Some looked good. 

A crepe myrtle with flowers. We get flowers in Florida early June. 

This satsuki was, I believe, donated by the Kennet Collection. It’s a more contemporary design and it’s in a Sara Raynor pot. 
Here’s a tree from home. 
The man responsible for the upkeep of the collection is Steve Ittel. 

He also made the pot on this pomegranate. 
It has one fruit. That’s by design and, also for horticultural reasons. For the tree to develope that fruit takes a lot of energy, and being in a bonsai pot automatically weakens fruit trees. Therefore, the best thing is for health of the tree is to limit fruit development. But you gotta have at least one. 
A similar thing is often done with azaleas while in development. You don’t let them flower until it’s ready for show. 

Steve gave us a backstage tour as well. 
A big trunked ginkgo. 

The Gardens have a big chrysanthemum show later in the year so the bonsai people (almost all volunteers) make chrysanthemum bonsai. 

Yes, that is a thing. Bonsai Mums. They are annuals (lasting only a year) but they can develop woody stems. 
So the real challenge is to make the structure look old enough and time it for maximum blooms. Neat, right? I might try it one year. 

Just as with the National Collection, they have a growing out and resting area. 

This creep myrtle had a nice trunk. 

It’s like butta!

This elm had been vandalized, with two huge bottom branches broken off. 
I don’t understand that at all. It’s like internet trolls, the behavior of a nihilist or spoiled children who need attention at any cost. There’s a special place in hell for vandals and trolls. 

Steve showed us all the greenhouses full of orchids too. But I didn’t take any pics (sorry Greg, and José). I did learn that to keep a small display stocked with good looking orchids it takes about 10 times the amount of orchids in development backstage. And that’s all for Longwood Gardens. I recommend a visit. A big “Thank you!” To Steve for taking the time to show me and Erick around and for the insider stories. Now it’s off to the Kennet Collection. The collection is a private one that is the passion of just one man, Doug. He is a very private man (which is why I won’t give you his last name) but he gave us permission to take as many pics as we wanted. Here’s some of them. 

That’s the most beautiful white pine I’ve seen. 

And this Satsuki azalea is without peer. 
Sorry. He also said we couldn’t share them. I don’t blame him. He has the biggest, the most valuable, and the best collection (that I’ve seen) of bonsai in the USA. It could be argued that there’s no equal outside of Japan or China. 

But, unless you happen to catch me in person, I can’t show you the pics. I even got to work on one of Doug’s tropicals, a sea hibiscus that is (I keep using this phrase) the best one in the USA. There’s even video of me working on it but, again, I can’t show you. To be honest, I just cut it back. The guys that are there every day (he has 5 full time caretakers that water, weed, pull old leaves etc) told me that some of the professionals that Doug brings in to style, wire, and repot the Japanese bonsai, were leery of how to approach this tree, and it was leggy and way out of shape. So I just went in and cut it back hard. It needed repotting but it was too late in the season for Pennsylvania. I told them to slip pot it into a larger container and then to repot in late spring next year. A sea hibiscus will put out so many roots that, here in Florida, you could repot twice in the growing season. 

Again, I’m sorry I can’t show you pics of the trees and the gardens. Even the koi ponds were awesome. 

They did give me and Erick t-shirts and hats. Which was cool and I can show you those. 

And I got permission to show this. That modern sculpture looking thing is an old copper wire holder. I don’t think it’s used anymore and the wire has probably hardened up, but it’s really interesting. And it proves that I was there.

I believe I have at least one more blog post I can write about my Pennsylvania/DC/Virginia/Maryland trip so look for it soon. 

And, as of this writing, I will be back in the area in the month of August next year, so if you’d like to have me make a visit to your club, or book a private session, send me an email to adamaskwhy@att.net. 

About adamaskwhy

Visual artist specializing in bonsai, mostly.
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5 Responses to Longwood Gardens and the mythical Kennet Collection

  1. Madumali says:

    I hope you are safe from the hurricane and bonsai plants are kept in a safe place !

  2. Karen says:

    Beautiful photos. Kennett not Kennet. ❤️ The Spelling Bandit

  3. Joan Lindsey says:

    Thank you Adam, about 75m years ago my sister used to play on this estate, there were no water lilies then. We were taken there to hear a performance of the 1812 Overture! Enjoyed the up view. My Grandmother knew the DuPonts Thank you again, Joan Lindsey, Suncoast Bonsai Society .

    On Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 12:11 PM, Adam’s Art and Bonsai Blog wrote:

    > adamaskwhy posted: “My first day in Pennsylvania had me visiting the > botanical garden know as Longwood Gardens, and the amazing private > collection called The Kennet Collection. Now, Longwood Gardens is easy to > get to, it’s a public place, but the Kennet Collection requires a” >

  4. Norma jean ward says:

    Went to Longwood Gardens in the spring. It was overwhelming. In my 85 years I have never seen so many beautiful gardens. Thanks for sharing your tour. Wonderful.

  5. Pingback: Longwood Gardens and the mythical Kennet Collection | Adam’s Art and Bonsai Blog – Wolf's Birding and Bonsai Blog

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