Longwood Gardens wins best bathroom contest

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The lush fern walls are an eager visitor's first impressions of a snazzy restroom experience at Longwood Gardens' bathrooms, which have been voted the best in the country. (Matthew Hall / Staff Photographer)

America’s best bathrooms are in Chester County.

Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square has racked up accolades for its gardens, lawns and flowers -- and now is earning one for its restrooms.

Cintas, a business-services company in Ohio, announced Wednesday that the popular attraction had won its annual best restrooms contest.

Longwood Gardens was one of 10 finalists for the award announced earlier this fall, and online voters selected the site’s distinctive facilities, known for the lush green wall that lines the bathroom hallway, as the best in the nation.

The private, skylit restroom pods are nestled into the 4,072-square-foot green wall of about 47,000 ferns and other plants.

The news conference announcing the achievement started, of course, with a potty pun.

"We are thrilled, truly flushed with pride," said Danny Rubin, survey editor of Cintas' contest, stopping for laugher, "about our most recent winner."

John Engel, senior manager of marketing at Cintas, congratulated Longwood for having "the best loos in the land."

Cintas recognizes public restrooms for their design, hygiene and usability. Longwood is now in Cintas' America's Best Restroom Hall of Fame and gets a $2,500 credit for Cintas services.

The journey to the top of the restroom world started with the practical need for more bathrooms for more guests. In October 2010, Longwood completed its curved 4,072-square-foot Green Wall.

"It's really more complicated than it might appear," said Sharon Loving, director of horticulture.

Caretakers use computers to water and regulate the temperature of the plants, which were carefully placed in 3,590 panels in the wall based on each type of plant's light preference. The wall produces as much oxygen as 90 trees that are 14 feet tall, according to Longwood.

"I didn't think they were bathrooms at first," said Joanne Vinciguerra, of Whitehouse Station, N.J.

"It looks like a spa in Hawaii," said Robert Nonni, of Cleverdale, N.Y.

His wife, Lona, said she had not been to Longwood in 30 years and looked forward to nature's call so she could experience the restrooms.

Sunlight pours through domed glass at the top of each of 17 individual restroom pods. Workers at Longwood said they often hear some of the garden's more than one million visitors per year gushing about the bathrooms and showing them off to newcomers.

"Usually, you're rolling the dice when you go to a public restroom," said Nancy Neary, of Randolph, N.J. "You think, how badly do I really have to go?"

The gardens' guests often say they have never seen anything like the restrooms at Longwood.

Among the places defeated by Longwood Gardens were the American Girl Place in Chicago, two tiki bars, in Ft. Lauderdale and Pittsburgh, and restaurants in California, Washington, and Texas.

The toilet-bowl shaped Bowl Plaza in Lucas, Kan., won second place. Third place went to the Fabulous Fox Theater in St. Louis.

Marnie Conley, Longwood's chief marketing officer, said visitors showed their passion for the public garden through their votes.

Pam Tabery of Saylorsburg, a retired professor, visits Longwood Gardens every year. She voted online for its restrooms.

"It deserves this No. 1," Tabery said.

Her friend Margaret Stish tried to suppress a smile, but she could not. The retired East Stroudsburg University professor giggled.

Michaelle Bond is an Inquirer staff writer. Follow @MichaelleBond on Twitter.

Emily Babay is on the philly.com Breaking News Desk. Follow @emilybabay on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443 or BreakingNewsDesk@philly.com. Follow @phillynews and @PhillyInquirer on Twitter.