Well-fortified after our lunch in Winterthur’s picturesque Visitor Center Garden Café and excited about the purchases we made at the Winterthur Bookstore, we boarded a tram for a 20-minute tour of Winterthur’s gardens. Our guide, Terry Colonna, exuded graciousness, enthusiasm and knowledge as she told us about Henry Francis du Pont’s vision for designing Winterthur’s beautiful, naturalistic garden.
Winterthur is one of the last of the original Wild Gardens, a type of garden design that was popular at the turn of the 20th century. Naturalized exotic plants were arranged to appear as if they grew spontaneously, planted in large, harmonious groupings with other plants. Curving designs follow the contours of the land.
Having studied agriculture and horticulture at Harvard, Mr. du Pont collected plants from around the world, carefully arranging them in color combinations to create a continuous succession of blooms from late January to November. We drove past the Azalea Woods, the March Bank, and the Winterhazel Walk, which Mrs. Colonna said are all magnificent in the spring. Next came the Magnolia Bend, the Sundial Garden, the Pinetum (du Pont’s collection of conifers), and the unique, rare Fringe Tree. We also learned about Mr. Du Pont’s friend, landscape architect Marian Coffin, and how they collaborated on the gardens near the house.
Later, we took a break on the East Terrace which resulted from that collaboration. We relaxed in the elegant summerhouse and enjoyed the view of the formal garden, tulip poplars and American beech trees.
Best of all was Enchanted Woods, a three-acre children’s garden that was transformed by woodland fairies into one of the most charming things I’ve seen. Stones that were once used for milling grain or as parts of houses have been transformed into Story Stones, a perfect setting for children to tell stories of their own. Young visitors can cross over a troll bridge, try not to step inside the Forbidden Fairy Ring, dance around a May Pole, have a tea party in the Acorn Tearoom, and walk along a serpentine path and a labyrinth. We climbed a ramp to a giant bird’s nest, walked around a darling Faerie Cottage playhouse, and watched a small fairy and her little sister pump water at Frog Hollow and explore the Tulip Tree House, made from a giant tulip poplar that lived for more than 100 years. A tiny door and a miniature window revealed some clever surprises at the Upside-Down Tree.
During our tour of the house, Mrs. Mills remarked that each room at Winterthur is like a poem. The gardens are too.