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Longwood Gardens reimagines its horticulture experience with 17-acre conservatory

Reconstruction & Renovation

Longwood Gardens reimagines its horticulture experience with 17-acre conservatory

The 32,000-sf conservatory designed by Weiss/Manfredi is a living and breathing glass house, with walls and roofs that open and close in response to the weather.


By Longwood Gardens | March 28, 2024
Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience West Conservatory
Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience West Conservatory, view from southwest. Rendering courtesy Weiss/Manfredi with Reed Hilderbrand for Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens announced this week that Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience, the most ambitious revitalization in a century of America’s greatest center for horticultural display, will open to the public on November 22, 2024. The project, led by Weiss/Manfredi in collaboration with Reed Hilderbrand, looks to the future of Longwood Gardens, transforming 17 acres to enhance the visitor experience and to expand opportunities for exhibitions, programs, and events.

The heart of this transformation is a 32,000-sf conservatory designed by Weiss/Manfredi as a living and breathing glass house, with walls and roofs that open and close in response to the weather, featuring gardens, pools, and fountains designed by Reed Hilderbrand. The opening will be celebrated with two weeks of festivities, including member-only preview days and special events.

Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, principals of Weiss/Manfredi and lead designers of Longwood Reimagined, noted: “The natural beauty of Longwood inspired our commitment to create a dialogue between nature and architecture and the new conservatory is the centerpiece of a cinematic sequence of open and enclosed gardens. The relaxed geometries of the pleated conservatory roof and branching columns create tapered perspectives that link the informal geometries of the adjacent meadow with Longwood’s historic conservatories.”

Aerial View of the Longwood Reimagined Construction Site
Aerial view of the Longwood Reimagined Construction Site. Photo courtesy Bancroft Construction Company


Conservatory Garden Planting to Begin this Spring

Planting of the new West Conservatory garden—comprised of 60 permanent plant species and a rotating selection of approximately 90 seasonal plant species—will begin this April. Reed Hilderbrand drew inspiration for this garden from the wild and cultivated landscapes of the Mediterranean ecozone, found in six regions of the world where alkaline soils predominate and water is precious. The Mediterranean garden composes drifts of tufted, low mounding plants with accents of dramatic plant forms that thrive in the characteristic hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters.

The palette for this tapestry-like garden design is extensive, including iconic plants from six geographic areas with a Mediterranean climate: the Mediterranean Basin, the Cape Region of South Africa, coastal California, Central Chile, Southwestern Australia, and South Australia. Agaves (Agave), Aloes (Aloe 'Johnson’s Hybrid’), Blueblossom (Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis ‘Yankee Point’), and the tiny pink flowers of Pink Iceplant (Oscularia deltoides) will hug the ground of the West Conservatory. 

Taller plants like Mediterranean Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis), Willow Wattle (Acacia salicina), and mature Bismark Palm (Bismarckia nobilis) will rise dramatically in the soaring space.

Rendering of people in conservatory
West Conservatory interior. Rendering courtesy Weiss/Manfredi with Reed Hilderbrand for Longwood Gardens

The Central Grove also begins planting this spring. Located adjacent to the revitalized Waterlily Court designed by Sir Peter Shepheard in 1989, it will serve as an entry to the new West Conservatory and relocated Cascade Garden. This space will feature 22 ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba ‘PNI 2720’ Princeton Sentry) with a carpet of Lenten-rose (Helleborus), nodding ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes cernua), and Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). The Central Grove, Waterlily Court, and 1906 restaurant, which overlooks the Main Fountain Garden, will open early to visitors on October 11.

Cascade Garden Reconstruction Underway

A key element of Longwood Reimagined is the relocation, preservation, and reconstruction of the Cascade Garden, designed by Roberto Burle Marx in 1992, into a new custom glasshouse designed by Weiss/Manfredi. Undertaken in consultation with Weiss/Manfredi, Reed Hilderbrand, Burle Marx Landscape Design Studio, and a panel of cultural landscape preservation experts convened by Longwood, this is the first time that a historic garden has been relocated.

“One of the highlights of my career was working with Mr. Burle Marx in 1992 on the original creation of the Cascade Garden,” said Sharon Loving, Chief Horticulture and Facilities Officer at Longwood. “It was like watching a magician work—he transformed a not very large space in an existing conservatory into an enchanting vertical environment with 16 waterfalls flowing into clear dark pools amidst climbing vines and stunning bromeliads. Thirty years later, the garden has outgrown that space and we’ve created a new glasshouse custom designed for its needs.”

Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience renderings
New glass house for the Roberto Burle Marx Cascade Garden (left) and Bonsai Courtyard (right). Renderings courtesy Weiss/Manfredi with Reed Hilderbrand for Longwood Gardens

This spring, re-installation of the Burle Marx garden begins, including the resetting of hundreds of pieces of the original schist that clad planting beds and garden walls; installation of updated mechanical and fountain systems which will improve both climate control in the garden and its sustainability; and building the garden’s central path, which has been redesigned to meet Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements without impacting the original intent of the historic garden.

Early this summer, many of the plants will be relocated from their temporary home back into the Cascade Garden and new plants will be added to complete the tropical rainforest experience originally conceived by Burle Marx. From its new home, the garden restates for this generation Burle Marx’s 1992 call to preserve rainforests threatened worldwide.

Other Elements Continue to Move Forward

Other elements of the Longwood Reimagined project are continuing or nearing completion, including construction of The Grove, a new education and administration building with a state-of-the-art library and classrooms, with interior finishing work underway.

Construction of conservatory
The Grove and West Conservatory designed by Weiss/Manfredi. Photo courtesy Bancroft Construction Company

The Potting Shed, which will house the Bonsai Workshop for Longwood’s notable bonsai collection, began its renovation this winter. The collection of bonsai will rotate through the new outdoor Bonsai Courtyard, designed by Reed Hilderbrand, which will create a gallery-like environment to appreciate specimens of rare Japanese tree species including kicho bonsai—Important Bonsai Masterpieces, so called because of their beauty or rarity.

The new Conservatory Terrace Overlook and Lower Conservatory Plaza will open on May 9, when Longwood’s storied Main Fountain Garden resumes performances for the summer season. The Overlook and Plaza form part of an important new east-west promenade that unites buildings and landscapes, from lush formal gardens to views over open meadows into a cohesive landscape.

On the Building Team
Owner/Developer: Longwood Gardens
Architect: Weiss/Manfredi
Landscape architect: Reed Hilderbrand
GC: Bancroft Construction

Aerial View of the Longwood Reimagined conservatory
Aerial view of the Longwood Reimagined Construction Site. Rendering courtesy Weiss/Manfredi with Reed Hilderbrand for Longwood Gardens

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