‘It would be nice to have something like this at home,’ Pierre S du Pont, the owner of Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, wrote after a visit to the famous sixteenth-century Villa d’Este in Italy in 1910. As a scion of the du Pont chemical dynasty, he had the funds to do just that, creating what Tim Richardson calls ‘exciting theatricality’. On three trips to Europe, du Pont saw about eighty gardens, certainly enough to be inspired. On his return he built a five-acre Italianate fountain garden, an open air theatre (modelled on a similar feature at Villa Gori near Siena) and several magical conservatories (visits to London, where he had seen the Palm House at Kew and the Crystal Palace, had given him the taste for giant glass buildings).
Longwood is one of twenty-five gardens (strictly speaking twenty-one gardens, one botanic garden, a public park and two conceptual garden festivals) that Richardson has chosen to include in his splendid Great Gardens of America. With no apparent order the book takes the reader on an eclectic journey across