A May 2005 trip
to Delaware by Idler
Quote: Crowned by gardens and mansions of the wealthy DuPont family, its gentle contours lovingly depicted in paintings by three generations of the Wyeths, the Brandywine Valley beguiles a mother-daughter duo visiting during 2 idyllic days in June.
Hotel | "Homewood Suites Brandywine Valley"
Of course, it may have been because we arrived late, but I like to think that my having booked at Hilton properties twice in the previous month had something to do with it. Even without the upgrade, this type of "extended stay" facility is just the ticket when you’re in touring mode, more intent on seeing local sights than looking for a unique place to stay. What you get in terms of reliable quality and convenience more than compensates for the predictable (and some might contend boring) nature of these chain hotels.
Sometimes, predictable is good, especially when you’re bone tired and not in the mood to figure out a new place.
The staff was quite helpful, giving me excellent directions over the phone from Longwood Gardens to the hotel when I called at around 9:30pm the night we checked in. Our late arrival proved no problem.
This was the first Homewood Suite I’d stayed in, and it was as nice as I’d hoped. The two-bedroom suite was amazingly spacious; the master bathroom alone was practically the size of some hotel rooms I’ve stayed in. One bedroom featured a king-size bed, while the other had two double beds. Both rooms had their own bathrooms, stocked with the usual Neutrogena products.
There was virtually everything a reasonable person could want in the suite, right down to an iron already filled with distilled water, with one notable exception: no luggage stands. No matter; the top of the large dresser worked well. After a late-night snack of complimentary microwave popcorn, we turned in. The bed was a little softer than I’m used to, but I slept well and woke without a backache (my usual experience with a soft mattress), so I’d give the bed a thumbs-up.
A complimentary breakfast is offered until 9am Monday to Friday and until 10am on weekends. I just made it downstairs in time to sample a ready-made cheese omelet, fresh fruit, and sausage, taking a tray back up to the room for my Mom.
Truth to tell, my only regret was that we didn’t have time to lounge around and enjoy our attractive and spacious suite a little longer. I can see coming back here, though, with my husband for a weekend escape sometime.
As for loyalty to a hotel chain, I’m an easy sell. A few more stays like this (and a few more upgrades), and I’ll be a firm believer. We’ll be staying in another Homewood Suites this upcoming winter, in New Orleans, and I’m looking forward to it.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 9, 2005
Homewood Suites Wilmington Brandywine Valley
350 Rocky Run Parkway
Wilmington, Delaware 19803
Restaurant | "Studied Nonchalance: Buckley's Tavern"
It was around 2:30pm by the time we finished touring Winterthur, so I was glad the restaurant was close at hand. The tavern sits right on the main road through Centreville, surrounded by attractive stone buildings and the sort of low-key commerce that prevails in the Brandywine Valley. Nothing is too big, too loud, or, heaven forbid, too obviously expensive. This is the domain of understated elegance. Here, the houses are set well back off the road behind a discrete screen of natural-looking (though no doubt painstakingly maintained) trees and shrubs.
In keeping with this, Buckley’s Tavern stopped short of seeming trendy or trying too hard. We seated ourselves, having been given a choice of sitting inside in a somewhat dark and pub-like (though smoke-free) bar area, a nicely decorated dining room, upstairs on a rooftop terrace, or out front on a shady front porch. We chose the porch, where the antics of warring sparrows in the nearby shrubbery entertained us.
A lanky jean-clad waitress set menus before us and took our orders for iced tea, then left us to peruse the offerings. Whoever wrote the menu has my wholehearted approval – it didn’t attempt to seduce or cajole with cutsie names or over-the-top combinations, but, instead, was merely intriguing. I was torn between a salad (the Vietnamese shrimp salad, for example) and sandwiches (the jerked chicken club, perhaps… no, wait a sec, the mustard-crusted chicken sandwich).
Although I knew perfectly well that a sandwich would suffice, I gilded the lily and ordered a roasted eggplant and lemon hummus platter for us to share. Much to my delight, it came with a great pile of pitted Greek olives. Better yet, Mom doesn’t care for olives. All mine – bliss! The pita bread accompanying the hummus was warm and soft, just the way I like it.
Mom had pine nut-crusted portobello served on focaccia and allowed me a taste – heaven, if you’re a fungophile. (I am.) Both sandwiches came with large sides of fries, which neither of us needed, but they were irresistible. My one quibble was that my "mustard-crusted" sandwich didn’t taste a bit mustardy, but that is not to say it was bland. I simply couldn’t discern the flavor I’d anticipated.
I had a long drive before me, so I didn’t sample any of the many beers or wines on offer. Perhaps another time – and I do hope there will be another time.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 9, 2005
5812 Kennett Pike Route 52
Centerville, Delaware 19807
Attraction | "A Garden for All Seasons: Longwood"
In truth, Longwood owes more to French and Italian gardens than to English ones. There is a cottage-style "Idea Garden," one of several distinct gardens that Longwood’s owner and principal designer, Pierre DuPont, created. But DuPont’s main passion seems to have been water. Longwood features an Italian Water Garden, two lakes, a Japanese-inspired "Eye of Water," an Italianate bell tower beside a waterfall, and, most dramatically, a fountain garden equipped with lights and music. The fountains are veritable geysers, shooting 10,000 gallons of water up to 130 feet into the air. No matter that there was no ready water supply at Longwood Garden. The über-wealthy DuPont had the money, passion, and know-how to "make it so." The result still pleases today.
Another of DuPont’s passions resulted in the immense conservatory, the largest I’ve ever seen. Doubtless he was influenced by such late-19th-century wonders as the Crystal Palace and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Touring this world-beneath-glass can take an avid gardener a full day; in fact, the one drawback at Longwood is there is simply too much to see in a single day.
Though the garden DuPont created grew incrementally rather than from a single grand plan, the total effect is not fragmentary. Instead, the underlying formal elements (topiary gardens, geometrical lines and parterres, and neatly clipped semicircles of yew hedges) mesh throughout with natural forms – the shapes of trees and shrubs combined with such sympathetic pairings as rounded clumps of blue catmint and pink peonies contrasted with the pointed shapes of iris and arborvitae. Curved lines and long vistas leading to focal points further guide the eye.
Since DuPont’s time, Longwood has been run by a trust, which does an admirable job of staying true to his vision, yet making the garden appealing to the general public. I particularly commend the efforts made to ensure the garden is handicapped accessible. A veritable fleet of "Rascal" scooters is at the disposal of those who might need them, free of charge. Shady benches and other lovely nooks beckon the foot weary throughout the garden.
My mother, who has had health problems in recent years, demurred when I suggested she use one of the scooters. Instead, we gently ambled at her pace over the central core of the garden and through the main sections of the conservatory. I found this visit, perhaps because of the serene pace (but I suspect more because of her loving company), my most enjoyable yet.
Visit Longwood and create your own seasonal garden memories. You won’t be disappointed.
1001 Longwood Rd
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania 19348-0501
Attraction | "Perfectly Framed: Brandywine River Museum"
To really appreciate this museum, it helps to know a little about the Wyeth family, for the surrounding area was lovingly depicted in countless paintings by Andrew Wyeth, his father, N.C. Wyeth, and his siblings. Indeed, the Brandywine Valley was something of a hotbed of artistic activity from the 19th century onwards. The paintings donated by Andrew Wyeth and his wife formed the nucleus of the museum’s collection.
On the Wednesday morning of our visit, we were chagrinned to find most of the galleries closed due to renovation/installation, but as it turned out this may not have been a bad thing. No entrance fee was charged (though we made a small donation), and since our time was limited, we didn’t feel rushed looking over two of the open galleries. Since both of those galleries focused on the Wyeths, arguably the museum’s guiding spirits, we got a fairly representative sampling of the collection.
I have to admit that I was secretly pleased to have found a museum that was obviously very much to the liking of my mother. While my husband and I enjoy nonrepresentational art, the collection here, firmly rooted in the genres of landscaping painting, ‘nature’ studies, portraiture, and illustration was more to Mom’s liking. Indeed, she seemed positively smitten with one painting, George W. Weymouth’s "August," featuring a detailed foreground of Queen Anne’s Lace. I was intrigued by several of Andrew Wyeth’s melancholic paintings of Karl Kuerner, a German immigrant whose farm and inhabitants were repeatedly painted by Wyeth. Today, the nearby Kuerner Farm can be toured (for an additional $5) as part of a studio and farm tour offered by the museum.
What impressed us most about the museum was how well the building suited the art on display. The museum encompasses an old grist mill on the banks of Brandywine Creek, adapted and added to by architect James Grieves. Grieves’ curvaceous, sunlit design echoes the sinuous form of the river itself, and use of natural ighting and materials throughout the galleries are the perfect complement to the natural subjects and tones of the paintings within. Outside, a wildflower garden surrounds the building and screens the parking lot. It is one of the best settings I’ve ever seen for an art museum.
I’ve decided that I’ll return one day soon to view the rest of the museum. I’ve a hankering to see the museum’s fine collection of Howard Pyle and other illustrators, for I’ve long been a devotee (and collector, in a small way) of illustrated books. There’s also a collection of trompe l’oeil paintings and some Edward Gorey drawings that beckon.
A visit to this utterly charming museum is surely one of the highlights of any Brandywine Valley tour.
Brandywine River Museum
Attraction | "An American Legacy: Winterthur"
Preserving Brandywine's rural heritage at Winterthur
I had been to the estate some sixteen or seventeen years previously, but I don’t recall having seen any of Winterthur’s fine collection of antiques or interiors on that occasion. As our time and energy were limited on my second visit, we opted for the "Gardens and Galleries Pass," admitting us those places as well as providing a half-hour tram ride through the large estate. This brief ride is an excellent introduction to the property, I decided, for I can distinctly remember being somewhat fatigued years ago touring the gardens on foot. (I don’t believe the trams had yet been introduced at that point.)
We began our tour in the galleries, which are in a building complex separate from the du Pont mansion. Here several large rooms feature educational displays from Winterthur’s collection, each focussing on one broad area, such as woodworking or textiles. My brother works in historical restoration, and I couldn’t help but think of him as I viewed an immense wall of woodworking tools. The In Wood gallery does a fine job of presenting the complex craft of cabinetry in terms a layman can understand. I was fascinated, too, by a display of tin-glazed earthenware (Delftware), chuckling over the mottos engraved in punch bowls. I had no idea that in colonial times ‘fish bowls’ had been associated with drinking – fish having been symbolic of drunkenness – but the Winterthur ceramics display educated me in this and other matters.
After our perusal of the galleries, we boarded the open-sided tram for our half-hour guided tour of the grounds and gardens. We passed a much-beloved children’s garden, "The Enchanted Forest," featuring ‘faerie cottages’ and tree houses; a vast azalea garden with a few straggling late-blooming shrubs; an impressive Pinetum; Sycamore Hill, featuring remarkably late-blooming lilacs and majestic princess trees; and an almost overpowering fragrance garden before alighting at the final stop, the peony garden. Here it was an easy 10-minute stroll back to the Visitor’s Center, which we managed to stretch into a 45-minute dawdle among one of the most stunning displays of peonies I’ve ever seen.
We spent a mere two hours at Winterthur, but we could easily have spent several days. Winterthur is indeed an American treasure.
Route 52 (Kennett Pike)