National Geographic : 1951 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine of sweet peas, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, and fern trees. I stepped from the Temperate Zone into the Tropics and found orchids in full flower (page 53). Here I found real hothouses, filled with fruit-laden papayas, red-berried coffee trees, a breadfruit tree, vanilla vines (page 44), ixora and passion flowers. I looked up above the other plants and saw stalks of bananas. Old-timers on the Long wood staff remember when President Calvin Coolidge visited the 1,000-acre estate. He was taken on a tour of the conservatory, saw everything, but made no comment. Then he looked up and saw bananas growing. He studied them for several seconds, turned to his guide, and remarked, "Bananas." Desert plants of all sizes and shapes thrive and flower in the cactus house. One cactus of the genus Opuntia grows so well that more than two tons of thorny leaves and stem have been hacked off to keep its size down. I saw what looked like a man from Mars. He wore a gas mask, large gloves, boots, and a heavy apron. Carrying a nozzled hose which was attached to the large tank strapped to his back, he was on his way to gas peach trees with a new type of aerosol bomb. "Everything Under the Sun" Being able to grow "nearly everything under the sun," as John H. Marx, super intendent of horticulture, puts it, requires an elaborate heating and ventilating system. Temperature and humidity are of prime im portance. Azaleas and camellias (page 55) must be kept relatively cool, between 420 and 60° F. Bougainvillea (page 57) gets about 70° during the day. For orchids 60° is minimum, 90° desirable. In the T-shaped main display room, every gardener finds the floral wonderland he dreams of. Plants in bloom are brought from the greenhouses and sunk, pots and all, into beds and borders edging the lush green lawn (page 58). The visitor can see flowers of all descriptions, everything from aga panthus to wisteria. No plant is permitted to fade or wilt. Fragrant bloom goes on throughout the year, from January's cyclamen and hyacinth to the Christmas poinsettia (page 59). The conservatory staff of 22 forces a variety of plants in succession (page 56). Thus the display room has tulips and other spring flowers over a three-month period. After that, tulips bloom in the outside gardens. By planting at intervals, the greenhouses have sweet peas seven months and roses ten. Some plants, like orchids, blossom all year. "Visitors fire a lot of questions at us and often make suggestions," explained Mr. Marx. "Once a lady examined our staghorn ferns and remarked that even Longwood seemed to have trouble with black spots accumulating on the leaves. She said, 'I got rid of mine with a brush. A spray does no good.' We had to tell her those were spores." The collection of shrubs and trees at Long wood is among the largest in the United States. Different families of plants number well over 200, with many varieties of each. Many horticulturalists refer to Longwood as "America's finest garden." Another Longwood feature is its organ, among the most complete ever built. An organ is considered large if it contains as many as 4,400 pipes; Longwood's has 11,000. The instrument measures 63 feet long, 40 feet high, and 30 feet deep. Its pipes are housed in chambers equivalent to a 10-room house. The largest pipe stands 34 feet high and has about 13 vibrations a second; the smallest corresponds to a thin pencil, with about 8,000 vibrations. The organ is powered by three electric motors. The organ also has a percussion division called "the jazz band"-including tympani, drums, bells, triangles, chimes, tambourine, cymbals, and xylophone. It contains a con cert grand piano, three harps, a vibra harp, and Chinese gong. With its 200 stops, organ ist Firmin Swinnen can produce almost any musical effect he desires. Mr. Swinnen, who became Longwood or ganist in 1923, has given more than 1,500 Sunday afternoon concerts. Longwood is a little city in itself. It has its own fire department, reservoir, water sys tem, baseball team, gun club, and almost 100 up-to-date houses and dormitories. Its 125 employees and their families eat dairy prod ucts, fruit, and vegetables from the Long wood farm. In one month Longwood uses 40,000 kilo watt-hours of electricity, enough to supply an average family for about 22 years. It requires 200,000 cubic feet of gas monthly, which would cook the meals for one household for nearly seven years. More than 1,000,000 gallons of water are used each month, a 10 year supply for one family. This "little city" is a part of Longwood that visitors rarely see. They are usually too busy gaping in awe at the magic fountains, exotic flowers, and glorious greenery. And what interests city dwellers almost as much is the fact that everywhere they hear birds-"real birds," as one man accustomed only to sparrows and starlings called them.