Page 36 - The Hunt - Summer 2019
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                his habit of visiting an art museum whenever he’s on a nursery road trip.
Culp also reflects on how gardening has changed over the years. “The old school of gardening might have restricted you to the idea that it begins around Mother’s Day, when you put your geranium pots on the porch,” he says
Culp likes to be a “horticultural cheer- leader” to encourage people to see garden- ing as part of a creative life, not a seasonal activity. That kind of “blurring the line” between gardening and the indoors is
also the focus of Culp’s upcoming book, tentatively titled Living with Plants. A personal testimony to gardening as a way of life, the book will include photographs of the cottage’s interior, along with garden recipes, floral arrangements and other ways of promoting the “gardener’s way” of living. “I think we’re only limited in our garden by what we ask of it,” says Culp. “They say you can’t have garden beds under black walnut trees—but I do. They say you can’t garden on a roof or a wall—but those are two places where I have gardens.”
When Anne Raver of the New York Times visited Brandywine Cottage, a downpour had flattened Culp’s collection of heirloom roses, and she wrote that they were “draped like drenched silk ball gowns over the arbors and fences.” There was plenty more to write about, as she counted “3,000 plants and then some” in Culp’s gardens. Spanning two acres, the property seems relatively small for a professional plantsman who
has developed what he calls “respectable” collections of his addictions or signature genera. Aside from hellebores, they include galanthus, or the common snowdrop.
With the layered garden approach, you don’t need a lot of space—only paths to take and explore. Everywhere you look at Brandywine Cottage—whether it’s down mowed
paths or flagstone corridors—you’ll find something that demands your attention.
Newcomers who pull into the upper driveway and look down a flight of stone
steps may do a double take when they see the jutting roof above the home’s entry, which hovers over more gardens running the length of the house. The roof garden was Culp’s first project when he bought the house in 1990. The decaying wood shingles have proven to be a perfect medium for opuntia, or prickly pear cactus. Today, the flowering bounty includes low- growing sedum, dicentra formosa (bleeding heart) and Japanese roof iris.
Culp’s vertical gardens are found in the ruins of a former carriage house that has partial stone walls, forming an enclave for plants that love the heat
and sun. A nationally known expert on herbaceous (non-woody) perennials, Culp grows succulents in a seemingly end-
less series of configurations like dish- sized agaves with bell-shaped flowers. Flowering plants hang from wall crevices and overflow from an array of clay pots and stone troughs.
For Culp, the “Holy Grail” has always been to find “plants of beauty” that push seasonal boundaries. The epigraph of
The Layered Garden is a quote by Francis Bacon, who wrote in 1765 that “there ought to be gardens for all months of the year.” Culp points out that Bacon only needed to discover herbaceous perennials. Each plant group has at least one early bloomer that extends seasonal boundar- ies. “I basically have three or four months of irises,” Culp says, citing examples such as German bearded irises and the smaller woodland irises he first saw as a child on hikes near his grandparents’ home in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Culp continues to gravitate toward such overlooked perennials as snowdrops, which he describes as tiny “exclamation points” accenting a dreary winter day. Remarkably, one cultivar he discovered in a remote woodland in England was later named after him by the Royal Horticultural Society. Culp still calls the discovery, Galanthus “David L. Culp,”
a group effort with a few fellow “galanthophiles” on the hike that day.
Even in the summer garden, when bold flowers compete for attention, Culp still
“My job is
to acquaint gardeners to the possibilities.”
 Culp likes to inspire people to see gardening as part of a creative life, not just a seasonal activity.

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