Declarations of love come in many ways. Some are modest, wrapped in flowers, chocolate, cards and letters. Others arrive in lavish trinkets of gold or diamonds. And then there are extravagant gestures. These days, adoration can take the form of proposals made to the backdrop of a flash mob dancing, or showers of luxury gifts –cars, helicopters, or even a waterfall to build a dream house nearby. There are no limits to what some will do to win the heart of another.
Nemours is one such example, created to win the heart of a lady – Mary (Alicia) Heyward Bradford. Alfred Irénée Du Pont idolized his second wife, showering her with gifts. With Nemours he succeeded in achieving a grand vision –the French-style, 300-acre mansion and garden estate built in only 18 months.
Nemours is one of several estates showcasing the prolific legacy of the DuPont family of Delaware – the estates and gardens, Winterthur and Longwood Gardens, in Pennsylvania, spell paradise for history, architecture and gardening enthusiasts.
Last year, friend Cindy and I ambled through the fern-studded woods, fuchsia azalea, and pink, buttery and purple peony wonder that was springtime in Winterthur. This year, a meandering early summer visit to Longwood Gardens brought with it nature’s perfume of wildflowers, peonies and roses, a romp through adult-sized tree-houses and young lovers posing for their wedding album. Recently, together with fellow rambler and friend, Val, I toured Nemours Mansion and Gardens in Wilmington, Delaware.
Thirty six of the mansion’s rooms were on display. Susan, a long-time employee and expert docent, guided the tour. She pointed out the numerous clocks throughout the house, including a singular Louis XVI musical clock (Alfred was an inventor, mechanically inclined, a lover of clocks and an accomplished musician). Artwork, paintings (Pieter Brueghel, the younger; James Peale; Joshua Reynolds to name a few), an easily missed, rare, 1st Century Greco-Roman vase, chandeliers, furniture, antiques and tapestries fill the interior. On display in the basement, along a corridor leading to Alfred’s office, hang military mementos, weapons and Prussian helmets. On a table, beneath a glass dome, a wide-eyed snowy owl perches, forever still, staring into nothing. It was a gift to Jessie, Alfred’s third wife, who appears to have been a night owl.
It may be our mutual love of nature and the outdoors that explains why, of the many rooms that we saw, Val and I agreed we loved one above all others: the morning room. Pale latticework covers the walls, plants and flowers and birds invite the outdoors inside. Two white metal cages stand on the sides. Cooing mourning doves perch in one, the other houses parakeets that twitter, snooze or fluff their feathers. While we delighted in the view, Susan voiced that she was less than enthusiastic about droppings, seeds and feathers scattered on the floor.
An hour and a half inside, filled with too many sights to take in at once, left us ready for fresh air and an exploration of the gardens. Only a handful of visitors braved the cold. One couple, visiting their son, said the weather provided a welcome break from 90-degree heat of Arizona.
Moss-flecked Delaware Blue Rock boulders hunkered down in the woodlands; a herd of white-tailed deer grazed in a small meadow. Several man-made lakes add to the serenity of the estate. Like the trail of a gown adorned and embroidered with winding ribbons of golden mums and boxwood borders, a long garden sweeps from the mansion to the far distance. There, the Temple of Love shelters a statue of Diana, bow in hand, poised for the hunt.
Once used for swimming and boating, the circular reflecting pool midway between the temple and the mansion was empty save for a lone tethered boat, bobbing gently in the breeze. A few fountains gushed water into the sunken garden.
In mid-October, with pine needles, oak and weeping birch leafs shivering in a wind that seemed to whisper “winter is coming”, few visitors were out on the grounds of the estate.
“Faint heart never won fair lady” implies that cowardice and lack of perseverance will not help in achieving any goal; this certainly does not apply to Alfred I. Du Pont. Although successful in business, he was challenged in affairs of the heart. His first marriage was unhappy and ended in divorce. By building Nemours, Alfred made a bold bid to win Alicia’s love. Sadly, in this he failed. His “… winter of … discontent” was over when he married Jessie Dew Ball . With her, his bold, lavish, and some might say, extreme efforts at romance, were finally rewarded with long-lasting respect, devotion and love.
Love is the flower of life, and blossoms unexpectedly and without law,
and must be plucked where it is found, and enjoyed for
the brief hour of its duration.
– D. H. Lawrence