Page 34 - The Hunt - Summer 2019
P. 34

                 At a time when many neigh- bors are still dragging their Christmas trees to the curb, David Culp is outdoors, preparing his garden for spring. For many of us, spring starts with the first burst
of blooms in May or June. But Culp has other ideas.
Each year, the renowned gardener and his partner, Michael Alderfer, work to remove tattered foliage from a hillside of hellebores. Technically, this hardy evergreen perennial can be left alone (it’s virtually disease free and deer proof) but Culp likes to set the stage for what he calls the “main show” of continuous blooms from late February to early May.
Culp’s Chester County home lies within the watershed of the East Branch of the Brandywine, near Downingtown,
where a summer day can often feel like a steam bath. The aptly named Brandywine Cottage is comprised of many levels of gardens—“micro-climates,” as Culp calls them. The hellebores, for instance, are part of the buttercup family. Here they grow in a diverse number of environ- ments that include a woodland hillside, a so-called “dry” gravel garden and a sunny cutting bed.
Culp has developed many of his hellebores under the trade name Brandywine Hybrids. He says they have a certain “coyness,” with colors ranging from apricots and pale greens to spotted pinks and dark reds. They resemble a congregation of bonnets on the hillside.
Now that it’s summer, the “tapestry of colors” is gone and a new garden inter- est appears. The hellebores’ dark-green,
leathery foliage adds texture and depth
to the hillside, which is layered with woodland ferns and disporum, a grace-
ful flowering plant commonly known as fairy bells or Solomon’s Seal. It’s a genus found in Asia that can tolerate shade and attracts butterflies. That makes it the kind of multitasker Culp looks for when he travels as a plant researcher with Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut, one of the country’s largest perennial growers.
Culp is also vice president of sales and marketing Sunny Border Nurseries, and he maintains a busy lecture and plant convention schedule, along with writ- ing for national gardening publications, teaching at Longwood Gardens and designing for high-energy clients.
At home, Culp jokes that the garden benches and resting places scattered
Culp was a “child gardener” who grew up digging in the dirt.

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