Skip to main content

Henry's children

Jan 05, 2015 01:58PM ● Published by Kerigan Butt

Courtesy of Winterthur Throughout their internship, students will use Winterthur's nearly thousand acres as an outdoor classroom.

Gallery: Henry's children [7 Images] Click any image to expand.

(Editor's note: This article first appeared in our Spring 2014 edition.)

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

When Henry Francis du Pont first settled the area of what is now Winterthur, it was a 2,500-acre working farm, where 300 prizewinning Holsteins grazed, streams trickled through thick green woodlands, and fields seemed to reach towards infinity.

In time, his property became the easel of his most spectacular dreams, inspired by his love and study of agriculture and horticulture, of plant and garden design – where the melding of color, form and movement created a naturalistic palette that honored the four seasons of the year. The gardens he made seemed effortlessly melded together, like a novel that when read seems to have written itself.

Since it was first unveiled to the public in 1951, millions of visitors to Winterthur have walked its pathways that rim around its 982 acres, like children escaping into either one of the world's largest fairy tales or one of its' most spectacular classrooms. Either way, if du Pont were alive today, he would be delighted that his vision has been enjoyed by so many.

Were he alive today, he would probably be hanging around the group of hot and sweaty people trudging over streams and through woods, as part of Winterthur's Garden Department internship program.

Through an intensive agenda intended to introduce all aspects of public horticulture, the program  introduces students to plant identification; pruning and planting techniques; tree climbing; mapping and charting of plant locations; invasive plant removal; turf management; the creation of new gardens and the proper restoration and maintenance of new ones; lectures with with horticulturists; as well as visits to neighboring gardens and arboretums.

Interns are selected to the Garden Department Internship program based on their education and career goals, and everyone selected first needs to go through an interview process with the Garden Department, either in person or via Skype. Most arrive at Winterthur in the summer and finish their internship by the time fall begins. Interns are paid for the duration of their time in the program, and are given the opportunity to live at Winterthur. After their internship ends, Winterthur professionals provide them with references as they embark on their careers.

"We give them a snapshot of what public horticulture is all about," said Carol Long, who serves as an associate curator for the Garden Department at Winterthur. "Internships of this kind can vary from place to place, but here, our spin is providing a little more emphasis on historic horticulture, communicating with visitors and answering their questions."

On a recent overcast morning at Winterthur, this summer's intern class were tutored by Lori Schnick in mapping the locations of ferns, the data of which will later be cataloged online.  

"It's really important for me to have a solid foundation in plants, and to be around people who know their plants," said Hayden King, who is in the landscape architecture graduate program at Cornell University. "I was interested in the Winterthur program because they really teach their interns a lot. At other places, you weed all day, but here, I get to work with different kinds of horticulturists, all of whom give different perspectives."  

Molly Hendry, from Birmingham, Alabama, recently graduated from Auburn University with a degree in horticulture and is working on her master's degree in landscape architecture at Auburn. She wants to become a landscape architect, and although she considered many other internships, she ultimately chose Winterthur.

"I hadn't had a chance to get practical experience in the field, and I really wanted to get my hands dirty," Hendry said. "I wanted to take what I learned in the classroom and apply it in a natural setting and gain practical knowledge. I want to be a designer who understands plants and can intentionally integrate a passion for horticulture into each design.  That's why I am here at Winterthur. Design is such a huge part of the magic of these gardens, but there is also ingrained into the mission here an appreciation of how a garden changes through the year."

Although the idea of spending a summer working in the gorgeous bounty of Winterthur's gardens can sound like a spectacular and colorful opportunity, Long said that an important aspect of the internship program is de-mystifying the belief that it's all just tending to pretty flowers.

"Gardening has always had a very glamorized view about it, and yes, it is so fulfilling, but yesterday, it was a very hot day, and we were right in the thick of it, working," she said. "Tending a garden is dealing with nature, and there have been several times when some of our interns have said that they weren't aware that there would so much weeding and pruning. That's all part of gardening.  It's introducing them into the reality of maintaining a garden."

During Hendry's interview with the Winterthur staff, she turned the tables a bit, and asked them why it was that they chose Winterthur.

"They told me that it's always been about the people," she said. "They said that they wanted to be around people who loved what they were doing. I realized then that I wanted to learn from them.  

"In horticulture, you're so focused on the details that you could spend your whole life in it and never learn everything. My teachers here have taught me that a garden is so much more than a just a collection of plants. It's a spatial experience, and you need to learn how to choreograph people through that place, so that when they walk away, they will walk away remembering that experience."

To learn more about internships at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, visit www.winterthur.org.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Greenville & Hockessin Life's free newsletter to catch every headline

Home+Garden, Local History