The Layered Garden

On a rainy afternoon this spring, I had the opportunity to visit the garden of David Culp.  David  and his partner Michael are the owners of a magnificent garden called  Brandywine Cottage,  located near Downingtown PA.  If I had one sentence to describe this garden, I would say –  It is truly an amazing display of creativity.

It is obvious that this garden was created  (and continues to evolve) because two gardeners are  passionate about  plants.   As gardeners we  hope to be able  to create a space in our yard  that is visually appealing, hoping that all the plants selected will  thrive ( or at least live for a couple of  years).  Brandywine Cottage is the complete garden package. Every part of the garden  has plants that are visually appealing  and  growing well, because location and soil conditions were carefully understood before planting, 

The tour was set up through the Pennsylvania  Horticultural  Society.  And for obvious reasons it quickly sold out.  Located on  a wooded parcel,  the property includes a very old but elegant home, built in 1790,  a barn  with the  foundation of an old stable attached, a garden shed, vegetable garden, beds of perennials and a modern chicken coop.   As you enter the property there is a wooded hillside garden, ( about 1 acre) that has been planted with hellebore, hostas, ferns, bulbs,  epimedium,  trillium, azaleas, dogwoods, hydrangea  ….  more plants than  can be imagined.  Paths and stone steps wind carefully through the wooded hillside allowing you to access every part of the wooded garden.

The gardens around the house are very private. There are  many places to sit and enjoy the view or just relax.   If you like containers you will be more than satisfied,  finding quite a selection, and lots of inspiration for new ideas. My favorite are the many stone and hypertufa troughs planted with conifers and succulents.   As a testament to his devotion to his plants,  each winter, all the non hardy plants in containers are brought into the barn  for a little protection from the cold winter winds and low temps of south eastern Pennsylvania.

The back yard has a rectangular vegetable garden  surround by a white fence that has been carefully located directly behind the house mirroring the house’s foundation.   Surrounded by beds that are full of hundreds of perennials  that burst into bloom at various times of the year.  Weeds do not stand a chance, the perennials have control of this garden.  No chemicals or extra water is used for the gardens, only the containers are watered.  Because this garden is located in a wooded area,  many products like Deer Off applied  regularly basis to keep the garden free from damage.

Behind the white stone barn, below the deck, is the remains of  two  6 ft walls that were the foundation for an old horse stable. The wooden  roof is no longer present  allowing the inside of the foundation  to become another secluded garden filled with containers. The container plantings arranged  inside the stone foundation are amazing. Stone troughs,  ceramic pots, wooden boxes are filled with a collection of unique plants.  The old stone walls, covered by  flowering perennials, planted in the crevices of the wall,  whereever there is space for roots,  creating a tapestry of flowers flowing down the wall.  Within the walls a micro climate, for  the many plants growing.   When I first saw a  photo of this garden in a magazine many years ago, I knew that immediately I needed to see it  first hand.  It was definitely  my favorite section of the garden.

The walled foundation garden in front of the barn.

Just a few of the many containers within the walls of the stone foundation.

David has recently written a book called the Layered Garden.  It is based on the design principles that he used to create this beautiful garden.   The book  discusses “how to choose the correct plants by understanding how they grow and change throughout the seasons, how to design a layered garden, and how to maintain it.” Photos in the book illustrate each part of  this garden: the woodland garden, the perennial border, the kitchen garden, the shrubbery, and the walled garden.

If you cannot find a way to visit the garden, the book will inspire you to create some beauty in your yard.

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