During Longwood Gardens 'most glorious 2007 season, 246,000 visitors came to see the 77 outdoor trees lit with 40 miles of lights, the 25-foot Douglas Fir tree and the 1,000 poinsettias inside.Although the traffic on Route 1 may have led some locals to assume the gardens had a record setting holiday season, the rains nearly every weekend dampened the actual numbers.

"Looking at the last five years, it was very good - one of our better seasons. But it was not as good as last year. One of the big factors was weather," said Longwood communications manager Patricia Evans.

This holiday season there were 11 rainy days, including almost every Sunday, typically Longwood's biggest day of the week. Last year, rain fell only three days. But, she said, visitors did not complain, and, in fact, were very pleased with Long-wood's holiday extravaganza.

For the first time, when the parking lots filled, traffic was routed back around to what is known as the "nursery" field along northbound Route 1. Visitors were then bused over to the visitors' center entrance. When that field was too wet Exelon Energy allowed use of its parking lots.

Most visitors, Evans said, come from within a three-hour driving radius. The newly launched family and grandparent passes, allowing entrance for up to five family members, were put to good use during the holidays. In its second year, the ice skating shows have proven to be very popular and a big draw.

While one-third of Long-wood's annual visitors make the trip during the winter holiday, the much-heralded garden has much planned for the spring as well. The holiday exhibit closed Jan. 6.

"By the end of Jan. 7, the Orangery and Exhibition Hall had no hint of Christmas remaining and featured yellow and pink flowers, and the outdoor Main Fountain Garden tree was gone. On January 8, the East Conservatory tree came down. The outdoor tree lights take a bit longer to take down-about one month-they are scheduled to be finished February 4," Evans said.

The next exhibit, titled Winter Escape, runs from Jan. 19 until March 31.

The four-acre heated indoor conservatory contains 20 gardens with 5,500 different types of plants from around the world. In the east conservatory this month are bright yellow daisy-like flowers from the mountains, Roldana petasites - large flower clusters on 5-6-foot tall stems. In the main conservatory Longwood's gardeners will display the bronze-leaved, white trumpet flowered Clerodentrum quadriloculare which they have trained into tree-like forms.

In February orchids take the stage in the conservatory, as well as the Living Wall of Orchids. March 28 through 30 the International Orchid Show and Sale will be held at Longwood. Orchids from the best growers and collectors in the world will fill the judged exhibits and a huge array of orchids will be offered for sale.

Tropical Day events for families and School's Out Monday events for children fill the winter calendar at Longwood with performances, a pot-a-plant activities and opportunities to meet exotic animals. Sol y Canto and the Philadelphia Zoo on Wheels are scheduled for Jan. 26; DinoRock and Live Reptiles Show are on March 1; and Andes Manta and Birds of the World are on March 15. A storyteller performed in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and biographer Carl Closs becomes George Washington and will wander the gardens answering questions and present a program on February 18.

New this year is the Jazz club at Longwood Gardens, a series of performances featuring Sophie Milman, the 24-year-old rising jazz star from Russia, January 31; the Grammy-nominated Turtle Island String Quartet Feb. 21; and jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett and his quartet March 13 in the 300-seat ballroom. The jazz evenings will include Tapas-style dining served in the conservatory prior to the concert and a coffee and dessert reception following the concert. Special tickets are available now.

The American Camellia Society Flower and Photography Show will be held Sunday, Feb. 24.

Tickets are also available now for the Curtis On Tour on March 8. The Curtis Institute of Music and Longwood Gardens present a concert with up-and-coming musicians performing with celebrated violinist Roberto Dias and cellist Margo Tatgenhorst Drakos.

Later in the spring, in celebration of Arbor Day, visitors will be treated to a bird's eye view of Longwood. Three large scale, "jaw-dropping" tree houses will be constructed around the garden property, Evans said. Visitors, including the handicapped, will be able to go up and take in the views for themselves. The structures will be in place at least through the summer months.

For more information or to purchase ticket, visit the Web site www.longwoodgardens.org or call 610-1000.

To contact Prue Osborn, email prueosborn@aol.com.

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