Friday, November 30, 2012

The Layered Garden

By David L. Culp and Adam Levine
Photographs by Rob Cardillo
Timber Press, 2012
Hardcover, 312 pages 
Books are a favorite gift to give and to receive, so  I thought I would tell you about several over the next couple of weeks, in case you want to put them on your Christmas shopping list.  (It's only 24 days away...don't hate me for reminding you!)

First up is The Layered Garden:  Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage.  Take a pleasant stroll through David Culp's incredible Brandywine Cottage gardens and learn his philosophy of layering plants.

Layering is a way of creating gorgeous plant combinations by carefully planning your plantings based on succession of bloom and textural interest.  With layering, there is something lovely to look at in the garden all year long.

You'll love the wonderful photographs throughout the book, and the casual tone of Culp's narrative makes you feel privy to all the thoughts and feelings behind his plant choices and the garden plans he made.  Think what a treat this will be for the armchair gardener in you or someone you love this January!

I became aware of David Culp when I bought my first Brandywine hellebore a few years ago.  Yes, the Brandywine hybrid strain is his creation!  I loved reading about the traits he selects for:  Color, pattern, and open flowers, first of all, but also he says,"I breed for a certain coyness[...]the flowers I like best are trying to catch my eye, but not staring right at me.  With such flowers I can play magician when I show them off to a visitor --"Now you see it, now you don't!"-- as I tilt the flowers up to reveal the beauty they hide inside."  I like a certain shyness in flowers myself and Brandywine hellebores have become some of my favorite garden plants.

The Layered Garden is more relevant to southern gardeners than I expected.  Brandywine Cottage is in Pennsylvania, but many of the plant choices do fine in southern gardens, too.  In his biography, Culp mentions years living in Atlanta and, later, in Matthews, NC, a small town (where incidentally, he and I would have been close neighbors in the mid-80s).  It was in the South where in his words, he "learned from wonderful gardener-neighbors," that David Culp grew to love camellias, magnolias, and many other ornamentals featured in his Pennsylvania garden.

Hellebores are a signature plant at Brandywine Cottage, but Culp has many collections -- magnolia, daffodil, trillium, fairy wings (Epimedium), Iris, and peonies, to name a few.  Many of these plants originally grew in his Carolina garden.  When he moved north, he just potted them up and they moved, too.  In North Carolina we might even expect to have an easier go of growing some of these than he does.

A meaty chapter about collecting, plant "addiction," and signature plants explains all this and is a satisfying end to the book.

Whether you read gardening books for practical information, inspiration, or simply entertainment, this is one for your must read list...and it would make a wonderful gift for anyone who loves plants and gardens.


I was given a copy of this book by Timber Press for review purposes. The opinions expressed above are my own.


  1. Nice review, love the background of the Brandywine series of Hellebore. I have a few myself.

    1. Thanks, Janet. I really love the Brandywine hellebores...would like to add more.

  2. This sounds like a very enjoyable book to read with a lot of great info. I love the layered look but confess I'm not very good at it. I'll definitely be looking for this book, thanks for sharing.
    Garden of Secrets

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Kimberly. The book is beautiful...a perfect winter read.