Henry Francis du Pont and the Early Development of Winterthur Gardens

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University of Delaware
In 1956, the Garden Club of America awarded Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) their Medal of Honor with the following dedication, "In the estimation of fellow horticulturists Mr. du Pont is granted to be one of the best, even the best gardener this country has ever produced" [emphasis mine]. H. F. du Pont was passionately involved with horticulture for the majority of his long life. Today the magnificent gardens and landscape of his former estate, "Winterthur," north of Wilmington, Delaware, attest to his horticultural and aesthetic genius. Yet little is known about H. F. du Pont's development as a horticulturist and garden designer, particularly during the first half of his lifetime, 1880 to 1927. Form the correspondence, journals, class notes, business records, and family documents of H. F. du Pont as well as personal interviews emerge the details of his extraordinary horticultural education. Raised in the Brandywine Valley amidst a large family with keen interests in horticulture, he was drawn to gardening and the study of nature. He helped with the workmen's chores on the estate and gained practical experience in husbandry and horticulture. At the age of thirteen he was sent to boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts, where he further enjoyed horticulture as a pastime. But it was during his college career at Harvard University that H. F. du Pont began seriously to pursue a formal education in horticulture. He studied horticultural practices, landscape design, and plants at Harvard' s Bussey Institution, one of America' s first colleges of practical agriculture and horticulture. Receiving his Bachelors degree from Harvard in 1903, H. F. du Pont continued to develop his horticultural knowledge by visiting the great gardens, nurseries, and exhibitions of the day in Europe and America; by reading extensively; by cultivating a friendship with the talented landscape architect Marian Cruger Coffin; and by establishing relations with amateur and professional plantsmen such as Charles Sprague Sargent. Simultaneously, he carried out a series of horticultural experiments at Winterthur, testing both plants and design ideas. Further inspired by the English school of gardening, his efforts transformed the grounds of the family estate into a very personal vision of horticultural beauty and order. Upon his inheritance of the Winterthur estate in 1927 following his father's death, H. F. du Pont was ready to apply all that he had learned over the previous forty-seven years to the creation of Winterthur Gardens.
Henry Francis du Pont, Winterthur, Garden Design, History- public garden