Q&A: Longwood Gardens’ Andrea Brunsendorf

The new director of outdoor landscapes’ career has come full circle.

Inspired by a childhood spent in her grandparents’ garden allotment in East Germany, Andrea Brunsendorf embarked on a career in horticulture that has spanned the globe, with positions in the U.K., Europe and South Africa. In London, she was on staff at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and later became head gardener at the 800-year-old Inner Temple Garden. Now, Brunsendorf has returned to Longwood Gardens—where she was part of its internship program—as the director of outdoor landscapes.

MLT: What first led you to Longwood Gardens?

AB: I was an international intern there from 2001 to 2002. Prior to that, I was working in an ornamental production nursery in Germany. Then I went to South Africa to work with a botanical institution very far removed from display horticulture. When I came here, I thought, “Oh my gosh. [This is] what’s possible when you put in so much time and resources.” You can really create something highly ornamental and provide people a lot of enjoyment.

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MLT: What’s the personal draw to historic gardens?

AB: It gives you a kind of guide of where the future can go. It doesn’t mean you have to garden like the Victorians did, but we can take that history and interpret it for us to move forward. It’s good to have that as a backbone. It really educates your way forward and can inspire you.

MLT: What are some of the challenges of switching from botanical to display gardens?

AB: The personal challenge will be getting my head and my perspective around the scale of Longwood—going from only three acres to over
1,000 acres. It’s understanding the scale and the pressure the team is under to not just provide a beautiful outer landscape. They’re also involved with the Christmas displays and the Orchid Extravaganza.

MLT: How are you familiarizing yourself with the grounds?

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AB: My plan was to walk the garden every morning, but it’s proven quite challenging. I’m going to be biking the garden on a day-to-day basis and start doing sketches. Most importantly, I’m getting to know the team, which knows how to grow plants in this climate and what plants work in certain areas.

MLT: How do you like living in this region?

AB: I’m very, very fond of the Brandywine River and that whole landscape. It reminds me a little bit of England. I’m really looking forward to being out of the city and living in the countryside. I also love [that] this area is so full of history and art. I’m a great Andrew Wyeth fan.

MLT: What does being the director of outdoor landscapes entail exactly?

AB: We have over 20 extensive display gardens—everything from the idea garden, where we grow vegetables and trial herbaceous plants, to the main fountain garden to the flower garden walk, to the Italian water garden. It’s a vast range of different gardens and styles. We’re here to advance them and make sure they’re an enjoyment.

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MLT: What are you most looking forward to in this role?

AB: I’m asked to draw up a plan for garden beautification. That’s something I’m most drawn to, since that’s what I did at the Inner Temple—looking at how we can improve our aesthetics and how we can improve the way we maintain things, to build on our bones and bring it further, and maybe elevate ourselves.

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