Friday, March 3, 2017

Garden Spotlight: Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library

Winterthur Gardens in Winterthur, Delaware. Photo by Jeannette Lindvig.

Winterthur's 1,000 acres encompass rolling hills, streams, meadows, and forests. Founder Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) developed an appreciation of nature as a boy that served as the basis for his life's work in the garden. He selected the choicest plants from around the world to enhance the natural setting, arranging them in lyrical color combinations and carefully orchestrating a succession of bloom from late January to November. Du Pont translated his love of the land into a unified work of art that embodies a romantic vision of nature's beauty.

History of the Garden

Henry Francis du Pont had three life-long passions: gardening, breeding cattle and collecting American antiques. Gardening was his first love. Even after he turned his former home into a museum in 1951, he kept his garden in private ownership until his death in 1969. He said that while after 1951 he was only a visitor to the museum, he was still Winterthur’s head gardener.

Three generations of the du Pont family gardened at Winterthur. In 1839, Evelina du Pont and her husband moved here and named it after the Bidermann ancestral town of Winterthur, Switzerland. Before they named the estate, built the house or even sited the well, Evelina du Pont and her husband, Antoine Bidermann, the first generation of du Ponts to live at Winterthur, considered flowers. While in France in 1838, Evelina wrote her sister in Delaware: "Antoine . . . is getting a plan here for our House in which he has not forgotten the little Greenhouse, if such may be termed a little room for flowers."

Evelina had passion for flowers. The same can be said about all the subsequent owners of Winterthur, gardeners and flower arrangers all. Each generation built on the previous generation’s work, and all preferred a garden that made the most of the natural landscape. The garden at Winterthur wraps around the house. The most formally landscaped and gardened areas are those closest to the house. As one moves farther away from the house, the tame, cultivated garden gives way to the freer Wild Garden style.

HF du Pont with gardeners.
H. F. du Pont as a Master Gardener

The Winterthur Garden is built out of the Brandywine landscape, finding its unique form in forests, fields, streams and hills. “The woods of Winterthur,” as the Bidermann’s said, have always been one of the great treasures of the property. H. F. du Pont said a garden “should fit in so well with the natural landscape that one should hardly be conscious that it has been accomplished.” Du Pont took his inspiration from the landscape he grew up with at Winterthur, including the woodland. A natural woodland is composed of four layers: the ground cover, shrub, small tree and tall tree layers. In such a woodland, the screen of vegetation is often so dense one can hardly see through it, but here in his garden, du Pont took this idea of woodland layers and re-imagined it, opening it up to create beautiful vistas and views.

In 1956, after he had gardened at Winterthur for seventy years, the Garden Club of America awarded Henry Francis du Pont their Medal of Honor, proclaiming him, “One of the best, even the best, gardener this country has ever produced.” The award cited du Pont as being a master of gardening, noting, "The woodland trees under planted with a profusion of native wildflowers and rhododendron, acre upon acre of dogwood, great banks of azaleas, lilies and peonies, iris and other rare specimens from many lands, each planted with taste and discrimination, each known, loved and watched, looking as though placed there by nature, forms one of the great gardens."

To see maps of the Winterthur gardens, a calendar of what's in bloom and visitor information visit:

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