Taking Fountains to New Heights

  • Nature, Animals & Parks
  • 2017

Longwood Gardens was the prize creation of donor Pierre du Pont. It offers visitors 1,000 acres of formal landscaping, forest, and greenhouses. But its centerpiece is a grand fountain garden that du Pont created after studying classic European examples for years.

Opened in 1931, Longwood’s liquid displays, stonework, and integrated plantings were in serious need of repair when the institution’s directors decided that the right way to honor du Pont’s love of water parks would be to upgrade theirs to today’s state of the art. So rather than simply redoing the 85-year-old existing layout they launched a $90 million renovation that increased the number of fountain jets from 380 to 1,719 (with some reaching a height of 175 feet), added propane flames to certain water columns, and choreographed the displays, via computer, to pieces of music—so that every show varies according to what is being heard.

Grand fountains have been a centerpiece of landscape design for centuries, but perhaps nowhere else in the world have they taken as spectacular a form as at this well-endowed park outside Philadelphia.