The opening graph contained  these words: 

“This may be the strangest garden in America, at once the darkest and most joyous, unlike any other place I’ve been.”

Now there’s an irresistible beginning. 

For years, we have subscribed to the Smithsonian. By doing so, we not only support magazine journalism but also an important nonprofit, so win-win there – and the content is often fascinating.

This particular story appears in this month’s issue (March 2023) and it’s called An Abandoned, Industrial Ruin Bursts With New Life in Delaware. It gives the history and the long-abandoned Crowninshield Gardens in Wilmington, created by Louise du Pont and her husband Francis B. “Frank” Crowninshield in the 1920s. The gardens started to fall into disrepair in 1958, when Louise died and in the decades that followed became pretty much buried under weeds and debris.

There’s now an effort by the nearby Hagley Museum to restore the gardens, with the help of landscape architect Nelson Byrd Woltz and others. These gardens were apparently a strange mixture of industrial remains from a horribly dangerous powder mill that had been on the site – and had killed 228 people with its accidental explosions – and more traditional landscape elements like classical sculptures and architectural remnants, as well as thousands of flowers, shrubs and trees. 

Amazingly, a year or so after thickets of nettles and vines were moved in 2018, spring blooms like Erythronium, Mertensia and species tulips emerged by the thousands after not having bloomed for decades.

It’s not clear if this bizarre landscape, built on a factory of death, will ever be publicly viewable. However, the Cultural Landscape Foundation is involved, which is a good sign.

Of course, these almost completely forgotten  gardens are very close to another, much more famous, showplace associated with the DuPont family, Longwood.

Gardens don’t preserve easily – unlike structures, which can retain much of their character for decades. I know there are gardens made by well-known landscape architects within a few hours drive of my house that have long since disappeared.

Overgrown gardens surrounded by ruins certainly have a romantic appeal – but even that takes a certain amount of upkeep. I’d love to visit Crowninshield. But from the sound of it, it’s still too dangerous.

Image courtesy of Charles Birnbaum, Cultural Landscape Foundation.