Horticulturist dedicates his life and career to PA’s Longwood Gardens

Colvin Randall at the Longwood Gardens Conservatory. (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Colvin Randall at the Longwood Gardens Conservatory. (Photo/Kristina Puga)

“If I had to choose between going blind or going deaf – that’d be tough,” says Colvin Randall, 63.

Randall works at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania – located 46 miles west of Philadelphia. Longwood Gardens was the estate of the late American philanthropist, Pierre S. du Pont, and features more than 1,000 acres of gardens, woodlands, meadows and fountains, including a 4.5 acre conservatory. Randall has had the rare opportunity to work there his entire 37-year career in various capacities.

“My parents first brought me to Longwood Gardens in a carriage, but the first time I remember coming was in 1963 – for my 13th birthday,” says Randall. “It was very magical.”

Ten years later, when he was 23 and a recent graduate from the University of Virginia, he entered the Longwood Graduate Program in ornamental horticulture – a joint master’s program with the University of Delaware. Randall says his first job out of school was at Longwood Gardens, in 1977, pulling weeds, but he eventually became the public relations manager, the historian and information manager, and in 2008 was named the first P.S. du Pont Fellow in recognition of his varied contributions to the Gardens.

“What I do now is a lot of historical research, work on videos, and present history talks on Longwood,” says Randall.

The quiet and gentle historical gardener has written many materials on Longwood Gardens, including the book, “Longwood Gardens: 100+ Years of Garden Splendor,” in 2005.

“I’m also in charge of fountain and firework displays – two nights a week during summer and every night during Christmas,” says Randall. “I figured out how to use music with fountains. “I’m fascinated by fountains…I’m also very interested in music.”


The instruments at Longwood Gardens. (Photo/Kristina Puga)

He has maintained the famous Aeolian pipe organ and a 62-bell carillon since 1978, in addition to performing concerts for audiences of more than 160,000 for 15 years.

“We also have a grand piano made by Steinway in Queens, [New York],” says Randall excitedly, yet serenely.

He mentions his mother was a piano teacher, and perhaps that’s how his love for music developed. Randalls was an only child, and now lives on Longwood Gardens property alone. He never married or had children.

“I walk to work. I used to roller skate around the property at night, but I fell, so I stopped,” says Randall smiling. “In April/May the tulips come out…the spring brings bird song. Just today, I heard some robins chirping. The sounds in a garden setting are just fantastic.”

He says working full-time as a Fellow at Longwood Gardens is an honor, and he couldn’t imagine doing anything else – except maybe volunteer at The Metropolitan Opera if he lived in NYC.

“Find a job that pleases you,” recommends Randall. “If I had chosen to be a stockbroker to make lots of money, I’m sure I’d be retired by now, because I couldn’t take it. I enjoy very much what I do…because it is not repetitive, and in researching history, hopefully future generations will not have to do the research. The information will be there….I wish I could go on forever.”