Light at Longwood
There’s a new exhibit at Longwood Gardens this summer. Bruce Munro, a British light artist, installed systems of fiber optics around the gardens, and on certain nights of the week, you can be there until 11pm to see the difference it makes. JG and I checked it out recently, and it’s really amazing.
We arrived at the gardens just before sunset, and we killed time in the conservatory until it was dark. There were a few teaser installations there, like the large, hanging sculpture of metal and glass droplets that looked like suspended rain. I loved the big chandeliers of glass globes filled with fiber optics. They changed color from white to turquoise to magenta to neon yellow. It was as if you had no choice but to watch, so we did.
And then, much to my horror, one guy stepped over the thick hedge of flowers and plantings to lie down on the grass and take pictures of one of the chandeliers from directly below. Someone in his party protested, and he said, “There aren’t any signs to say you can’t go in the grass.” Dude. No. Having to pick your way through 3 feet of flowers should tell you that you are totally not allowed to do that! It’s implied! I hoped his pictures came out terribly.
By then, it was dark, so we took in the real exhibit. At Lookout Loft, one of the oversized tree houses, there were thousands of glass, um, flowers? They were small globes set on “stems,” and each had a fiber optic filament inside. They, too, changed color in waves, and among the dark trees, the effect was enchanting. “It’s like fairyland,” I breathed.
In the meadow, there were strange, translucent towers. We approached them by crossing a foot bridge lined with lanterns, and as we drew closer, we realized that they were made of soda bottles! The bottles were stacked into large cylinders, filled with liquid, and then, yes, more fiber optics. From far away, the effect was of a sort of gelatinous, otherworldly, science-fiction colony, but up close, it looked like a very cool science project.
Then, we walked along the lake in the Italian garden, and more fiber optic flowers flickered along the edge. This time, the reflection against the water heightened the fairyland effect.
Overall, it’s a really cool exhibit. Just like every other part of Longwood, it’s beyond the scope of my imagination as to what it took to install and conceive of the elements, and it’s meticulous and well done. It’s not like anything I’ve seen before. After going through the website, I realize now that we missed a couple of aspects of the exhibit, so we’ll be sure to hit those when we go back with friends later this month.
However, the down sides are similar to that of visiting the gardens at Christmastime. The limited exhibit space results in a lot of crowding, and people are generally unaware of their surroundings. This is particularly troublesome when you are walking around in the dark. Also, I don’t think it’s worth the cost of $18 adult admission to walk through an exhibit that takes an hour at most.
But it’s really cool, I promise! So if you are in the mood to see this exhibit while it is available until September 29, here is what I recommend:
- The exhibit is open late Wednesday-Saturday, so plan to come to the gardens during the day one of these days. Wednesday or Thursday is optimal, if you can. Check the Longwood website to make sure there isn’t a conflict with another event, like a fireworks display, a fountain show, or a concert.
- Let me know that you want to come, and I will give you my member information so you can buy your tickets online with a not-awesome-but-still-helpful 10% discount.
- You will need to specify what time you are arriving. I recommend the early afternoon, maybe around 1-2pm.
- In the afternoon, take in the conservatory, Italian gardens, idea gardens, main fountain displays, and the carillon. By this time, you should work up a nice appetite.
- On your way out, get your hand stamped, and you will be allowed back in later.
- Head into downtown Kennett Square for dinner! There is a lot of metered street parking, plus a public lot by the library. Almost all of the local businesses make change for the meters. If you are parking after 5pm, all of the meters are free.
- Try the Half Moon (get the crab nachos and the smoky mushroom bisque) or La Michoacana Grill (yummy burritos and fish tacos) for dinner.
- Stroll up and down State Street to work off your dinner a bit and justify that, yes, you need some ice cream. Treat yourself at La Michoacana Ice Cream. Get the smallest size ($2.50), because you get 2 big scoops. My favorite combination is avocado and mamey, a sort of tropical fruit, and JG loves the nutella.
- Half an hour before sunset, make your way back to Longwood. Showing your stamped hand should get you through with no problem.
- Enjoy the light display with the full satisfaction that you got your money’s worth.