Nemours, Delaware, USA

A Baroque Vision

Words: Tim Richardson

The official title of the estate, ‘Nemours Mansion’, reflects the fact that this ‘French’ house and formal garden is located in Wilmington, Delaware, the creation of gunpowder magnate Alfred I. du Pont in 1909-10; the grandiose term ‘mansion’ is never normally used in the names of great houses in Europe. But never mind that: this is a first-rate garden in its own right, not some American knock-off.

Du Pont was a scion of the great chemicals dynasty who constructed several notable houses and gardens in the region, including Winterthur and Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. Nemours has always been the lesser-known and -visited of these gardens, but it has become even more worthy of our attention since it was lavishly restored in 2008 (the interior contains some fine paintings – better than those at other du Pont houses).

I love Nemours for its completely uncompromising homage to French Baroque: the central axis of the garden is a grassy allee flanked by clipped evergreens, massive urns and mature trees which leads down to a 12m-wide reflecting pool and gilded fountain backed by a massive architectural colonnade.

Not to be Missed

Between the pool and the colonnade is an elaborate ‘maze garden’ focused on an imposing gilded statue entitled ‘Achievement’ (a rather American topic, of course). The statuary is not cod-Versailles in style but an attractive and apposite collection of good French and American Art Nouveau and Beaux Arts work. Nemours is not over-ornamented or over-the-top. Over all it’s a first-rate garden.

At first sight, though, Nemours appears to be a one-hit wonder: a splendid vista in one glimpse. But this garden has other surprises. You can walk down to the colonnade and beyond savouring different cross vistas and perspectives as you go, just as you might in a real French Baroque garden such as Versailles or Vaux le Vicomte. On the far side of the colonnade is hidden a sunken garden and cascade of gleaming white Travertine stone with Carrara marble statues, and beyond that, rounding off the garden, a statue of Diana (striding along with an arrow) encased in a classical rotunda.

Quibble

No children under 12 (what!) It is also most regrettable that the only way to see house and garden is as part of an official tour; you are not free to wander. The estate is closed from January until May. No food available. No picnicking. Despite these restrictions, Nemours is well worth a visit, especially in the context of the other du Pont gardens – and if you are going to the region, don’t miss Chanticleer (see Reviews), either.

How to Get There

As with many American gardens, it is advisable to ring or email ahead to book the required tour (see above).  Full details are here