Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square will work with West 8, a Dutch landscape architecture and urban design firm, to develop a comprehensive master plan to guide the famous public garden's growth over the next 40 years.
The plan will address traffic and parking needs, pedestrian flow, facilities for expanded educational and fine arts offerings, maintenance and infrastructure, and ways to "expand the Longwood experience." That could mean greater emphasis on technology and capitalizing on the garden's little-known assets, such as the 400-acre, working farm that was the original dairy farm of Longwood founder Pierre S. du Pont.
"There is so much more to Longwood than the pretty flowers," Paul Redman, director since 2006, said Monday.
West 8, based in Rotterdam with an office in New York City, was selected from 30 firms and comprises 70 architects, urban designers, landscape architects, and industrial engineers. Its current projects include Parque Lineal del Rio Manzanares in Madrid, Governors Island Park in New York, and the Toronto waterfront.
Completion of the Longwood plan is expected in July 2011.
Adriaan Geuze, who founded West 8 in 1987, said in a telephone interview from his Rotterdam office that he hoped to "extend the legacy of Pierre du Pont." Du Pont bought the Longwood property in 1906, parlaying his passion for gardening - and a family fortune - into one of the nation's premier horticultural centers. Last year, it drew 885,000 visitors.
"How can you extend such a legacy in the 21st century?" Geuze said. "If you see the gardens, you immediately recognize them as, wow, somebody with a great vision did this."
West 8's mission, Geuze said, is "to celebrate Longwood, enjoy it, keep it, preserve it, while asking how could it function as a spectacular place for larger groups of people in the 21st century."
Geuze compared Longwood's 1,077 acres of meadows and hills to a Tuscan landscape. "The beautiful topography is really nice, but this is not yet part of the gardens. It is . . . not integrated into what visitors see," he said.
Visitors have access to only 27 percent of the Longwood landscape, a proportion Redman said could comfortably triple. "We have incredible stories to tell here, and the master plan is about how we can tell more of them," he said.
West 8 will also look at the garden's entrance, where a winding driveway off U.S. Route 1 leads to a large, though inadequate, parking area. Perhaps, said Geuze, "you make some early excitements when people arrive. Now, it's very much an extended surprise if you enter the gardens from the road."
Longwood's elaborate sustainability program - composting, water management, and pest control - could also use more promotion. "There's a spirit of innovation in the gardens. Could that spirit be used for the next generation?" Geuze asked.
Attracting more and different visitors - now, typically, white, female, and over 30 - is a goal of Nathan Hayward 3d, president of the Longwood board and a great-nephew of du Pont's. "I really hope we can be open and accessible to a more diverse audience," he said, always a challenge given the lack of public transportation in Longwood's southern Chester County neighborhood.
West 8's master plan comprises the second phase of an introspective process begun in 2008 with the hiring of Lord Cultural Resources of Toronto, consultants, to help Longwood broaden its mission within the du Pont legacy. Already, among other innovations, Redman has added jazz, classical, and blues performances and launched museum-style exhibitions in the Conservatory.
All told, once the master plan is finished, Redman said, Longwood will have spent about $1 million on long-term planning.