Lost Gardens of the Brandywine at Winterthur Museum and Gardens

May 30, 2010

Lost Gardens of the Brandywine, Credit Winterthur

Lost Gardens of the Brandywine, Credit Winterthur Museum and Gardens

Lost Gardens of the Bandywine runs through July 25th at Winterthur Museum and Gardens.  During the clamorous years before World War II, American gardens developed into a high art.  Through the use of antique garden furniture, rare color photography, and never-before-seen family images of garden life, this ehibition explores how Wilmington became a focal point of horticulture in the United States.

The great public gardens for which the area is known today – Winterthur, Longwood, Mount Cuba and Nemours were all thriving private residences before World War II.  Dozens of smaller spaces were never made public.  Gardening is ephemeral by its very nature, and most of the gardens have not survived.  The older ones still extant are at the center of a struggle to balance historic integrity with the dynamic life cycle of plants and the long-term maintenance of sculpture and other garden ornaments.

This looks to be the first-ever collaborative exhibition of Winterthur, Hagley, Longwood and Nemours.  Previously unpublished photos were provided by garden clubs, families of the gardeners and descendants of the original garden owners.  Until now, garden clubs have seldom been given the recognition they deserve: an entire section is devoted to their contributions.

Winterthur Auricula, Credit Winterthur Museum and Gardens

Winterthur Auricula, Credit Winterthur Museum and Gardens

One exhibition highlight is a dramatic auricula theater (a traditional display of botanical specimens on tiered shelves) filled with plants representing the horticulture legacy of the du Pont family.  Diane James Designs, Inc. has donated the silk flowers for this charming 7-by-5 foot arrangement.  Another highlight is a slide projection area in which visitors can sit on antique garden benches and view 60 color lantern slides of gardens from the 1920s.  Sunday, June 13, Saint Anthony’s Day, will be Celebrate Being Italian Day at Winterthur.  The day will honor the legacy of the Italian gardeners of the 1920s and 30s who made such a contribution to the area’s horticulture.  There will be a $5 discount to anyone with a ticket from Wilmington’s Italian Festival or says they are Proud to be Italian.

Maggie Lidz, the curator of the exhibition, began Lost Gardens as an outgrowth of her book, The du Ponts: Houses and Gardens in the Brandywine (Acanthus Press 2009). “There were so many beautiful photos that I couldn’t use in the book,” she explains.  “I loved having the opportunity to use them here.”  Although she began her research with the owners, she quickly found herself engaged with the children and grandchildren of the estate gardeners.  “Interviewing them might have been the most interesting part of the last year.  They had so many fascinating stories and photos to share!”  During World War I, hundreds of Italian workers were brought here to work in the ramped-up gunpowder factories.  In 1921, when the mills closed, a surprising number of laborers found gardening jobs on du Pont estates, ever-expanding due to new postwar wealth.  Immigrants from Giusvalla, Italy formed a local community that is still closely tied to its hometown and even has its own website: http://www.giusvalla.blogspot.com.




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