Behind the Fountains in Longwood Gardens

The gardens are beautiful, and they have fantastic fountains throughout the grounds. The fountain shows are amazing, especially the illuminated night shows.

                                                            By Robin O’Neal Smith

Associate Editor


I live in Pennsylvania but had never visited until July. My husband and I drove across the state, enjoyed a day in the gardens, took in the fountain shows, and participated in a “Behind the Fountains” tour. The tour was excellent, and I learned many details about the fountains’ history and how they created the fantastic fountain shows.

Longwood Gardens hosted our visit to the gardens. All opinions are my own.

History of the Fountains

Pierre du Pont admired water gardens when he visited around the world and wanted to bring them to the garden he built near Philadelphia at Kennett Square.

6 various fountains arranged in a well mowed lawnPierre designed the centerpiece fountain garden with Italian, French, and English countryside design elements. The fountains were unveiled in 1931 and continued working with original pumps, lights, and pipes until 2014. It was his last major construction project before his death.

Renovations to the fountains began in 2014 and were completed in 2017. The five-acre main Fountain Garden space was meticulously preserved, and the old equipment once considered groundbreaking engineering was brought into the 21st century by adding state-of-the-art theatrics.

During the renovation, more than 4,000 pieces of stone were removed, cleaned, restored, or replaced and then installed back into the main fountain garden. They carefully removed nearly 400 old fountain jets and repaired them.

The three-year, $90 million revamp made Longwood Garden the most extensive fountain garden in the US.

The Behind The Fountains Tour

When you visit Longwood Gardens, you see all the beautiful flowers and the gorgeous fountains, but you don’t see the work that goes into creating the fountain shows. The “Behind The Fountains” Tour gives you a glimpse of the work that goes into the fountains and the engineering and infrastructure hidden underground.

A large assortment of colorful flowers. Red, purple, orange and yellow.The behind-the-scenes tour permits you to experience the Main Fountain Garden from the inside and explore the inner workings of the largest fountain garden in the United States.

Your tour begins above ground and descends into the vast tunnel system under the fountains. The guided tour is approximately an hour long, and you will learn how they create a gorgeous entertaining experience.

Big white pipes underground that pump water to the fountainsIt was interesting to see how they program the jets and the fountain presentations to the music making the water spin, spiral, and shoot 175 feet in the air. You will see the myriad of pipes, pumps, and other equipment used for the fountains and the presentations. It is sort of mind-boggling how it all comes together underground.

As mentioned earlier, 400 old fountain jets were restored during the renovation and are still used. They added 1,340 new jets that rotate in a circle, move side to side, and from front to back. Unique to Longwood are jets that form a basketweave pattern of water.

These jets are programmed underground thanks to a system of tunnels stretching a quarter of a mile beneath the fountains. Fountain choreographers use 3D software to visualize the choreography on a computer before programming the fountains.

Tour guide explaining how the jets work for the fountainsEach fountain has a pump. In total, 31,865 gallons of water are pumped per minute Previously when something broke and needed repair, they would have to dig up the ground surrounding the fountain. Now repairs are made out of sight in the tunnels.

NOTE:  The Behind The Fountain tour requires the ability to climb several flights of stairs and is not accessible by wheelchairs or other mobility devices. You must be at least 11 years old to participate, and young adults ages 11 through 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

The Fountain Shows

Watching the fountain show is truly magical. There are fountain shows during the day, but the illuminated fountains are the highlight. There are 1,389 LED lights on display with infinite color combinations as part of the show, and 31,865 gallons of water per minute is pumped, sprayed, etc., during the show. Jets propel water up to 175 feet in the air, and there are also 30 propane flame nozzles on top of 10-foot high water jets. These are lit off and on during the shows.

Fountains illuminated in blue and purple at night The fountains perform daily throughout the summer. You can visit the Gardens from 9 AM to 6 PM Sunday through Wednesday and 9 AM to 10 PM Thursday through Saturday.

Throughout the day, the Open Air Theatre Fountain Shows come alive to music every two hours, starting at 10:15 AM.    The fountains spout and spray to the tune of the music. The Main Fountain Garden Performances occur every two hours starting at 11:15 AM. These giant water performances send streams of water throughout the air from 1,719 jets.

These enormous fountains can easily spray spectators. Standing five or ten feet from the fountains is best unless you want to be soaked.

Enjoy the spectacular nighttime Illuminated Fountain Performances in the main fountain garden every Thursday through Sunday at 9:15 PM. The magnificent Festival of Fountains is in full swing every Thursday through Saturday, starting at dusk through September 25, 2022. This illuminated water show will highlight time spent at Longwood Gardens.

Water fountains from the main performance shooting up really high Take a blanket or chair to sit and watch the colorful 30-minute show as water in all shapes and heights combined with various colors and music for a spectacular event. They have more than 25 themed shows, so you can see a different show each visit.

Nowhere else in the world is there a setting that marries fountains, theater, and gardens together—the Longwood Garden Main Fountain Garden is the finest performance fountain in the world.

If you want to see the workings of the fountains close up and learn how they make the magic, then the Behind the Fountain tour is for you. Plan to stay into the evening to experience the illuminated fountains.

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