The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage

The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage


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“Gardenmaking, in its finest form, is a celebration of life and of love. David and his book epitomize this.” —Lauren Springer Ogden

Brandywine Cottage is David Culp's beloved two-acre Pennsylvania garden where he mastered the design technique of layering—interplanting many different species in the same area so that as one plant passes its peak, another takes over. The result is a nonstop parade of color that begins with a tapestry of heirloom daffodils and hellebores in spring and ends with a jewel-like blend of Asian wildflowers at the onset of winter.

The Layered Garden shows you how to recreate Culp's majestic display. It starts with a basic lesson in layering—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. To illustrate how layering works, Culp takes you on a personal tour through each part of his celebrated garden: the woodland garden, the perennial border, the kitchen garden, the shrubbery, and the walled garden. The book culminates with a chapter dedicated to signature plants for all four seasons.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604692365
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/16/2012
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 160,517
Product dimensions: 7.60(w) x 11.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Along with his partner, Michael Alderfer, David Culp is the creator of the gardens at Brandywine Cottage in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. David has been lecturing about gardens nationwide for more than 25 years. His articles have appeared in Country Living, Fine Gardening, Green Scene, and many other publications. He is a former contributing editor to Horticulture magazine and served as chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Hardy Plant Society. An expert on herbaceous perennials, David is vice president for Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut. He developed the Brandywine Hybrid strain of hellebores and was cited in the Wall Street Journal for his expertise on snowdrops. The garden at Brandywine Cottage has been featured several times in Martha Stewart Living and on HGTV. Visit him at

Adam Levine is an award-winning garden writer whose work has appeared in several books as well as many regional and national magazines. He lives and gardens in Media, Pennsylvania.

Rob Cardillo has been photographing gardens, plants, and the people who tend them for more than 20 years. Formerly the director of photography at Organic Gardening, he now works for major publishers, horticultural suppliers, and landscape designers throughout the United States. Visit him at

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: The Path to Brandywine Cottage
Gardening often brings me to my knees. By this I mean more than the planting, weeding, and fussing, the bended-knee, manicure-destroying grunt work that all of us do. The beauty and diversity of plants often stop me in my tracks, and I am never satisfied to simply gaze at these wonders from above. I get down on my knees to get a closer look, touching the plants and the soil they grow in, a communion that connects me to the earth and to life on Earth in an immediate, almost electric way. Many of my favorite flowers are tiny, their differences minute and seemingly inconsequential to the average observer, but I love examining all the facets of their intricate beauty. I especially love when someone kneels beside me, so I can share my fascination with a kindred spirit. Over a lifetime of varied horticultural pursuits, I have learned that the closer I look, the more astounded I become, and the more in love I fall with plants and the gardens in which they reside.

I have been a passionate plantsman and collector since I was a child, and Brandywine Cottage, the 2-acre garden I tend with Michael Alderfer in southeastern Pennsylvania, is home to unusual plants from all over the world. The collector in me thinks each individual specimen is beautiful, of course; otherwise I would not bother growing them. But the designer in me wants more than a botanical garden with each genus grown in its separate bed. Plants are the basis of my garden artistry, serving as pieces in a design puzzle, as colors in a palette, as elements of a sculpture. As with artists in any medium, the more we learn about these vehicles for our expression and the more passionate we are about them, the more ways we will find to use them and the more beautiful our gardens will become.

Combining plants in a multitude of ways, based on their habits and moods, how they live and even how they die, gives my garden successive layers of interest that extend into every month of the year. I use the term “layers” as shorthand for a design process by which I try to maximize the beauty and interest from each planted space, by combining complementary plants that either grow and bloom together or follow each other in succession. While succession planting is part of this design approach, my idea of layering goes beyond just the plants to encompass the development of each bed and how the beds relate to each other and the garden as a whole. More than just making sure one blooming plant follows another, layering is the art of creating a series of peak garden moments, the anticipation of which gets me out of bed in the morning.

Trying to describe something visual in words is like trying to write about the taste of a complex food. How would you describe the taste of a curry? I could list all the spices that go into it, come up with a few adjectives like hot and spicy, but none of this would tell you exactly how it makes you feel when you first taste it. A layered garden like mine is complex, like a curry, with depths that are not all apparent at first glance and which can be savored in many ways, at many levels. My hellebores can be seen as simply beautiful; but my hellebore breeding can be an exercise in mathematical probability that I will explain to anyone who wants to listen. And in my layered garden, my hellebore bed is more than just hellebores: otherwise why would I want to look at it once these flowers were done blooming? Layering allows me to use all the many plants I collect in exciting ways that highlight the individuals while melding the collections into a coherent and cohesive whole.

Countless people have provided me with the ideas that, sifted and composted in my mind, ended up in the ground at the Brandywine Cottage garden. Not all gardens are designed in layers, but layering is a feature of many of the gardens I love and is practiced by many of the gardeners I admire. I certainly make no claim that the “layered garden” (or anything else in this book) is my own invention. What I hope to offer, in the text and especially in the photographs and captions, is an intimate look at how one such garden has been conceived and constructed. Just as we can learn much by the peering into individual flowers, the close examination of any good garden, along with insights into the minds and the methods of its gardeners, can teach many lessons.

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The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Well written and beautifully displayed. It gives hope and encouragement to everyone to try to build their own gardens. He teaches us there are not failures just learning experiences to gain from your choices and design. Beautiful story and a pleasure to read about this amazing place.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been a gardner for many years. Because I live in the midwest, most of my gardening is done in the spring and summer. This book has expanded ideas for plants for all four seasons. I have always struggled to incorporate different plants such that I will always have something new blooming. This book has given me so many new ideas and suggestions for new plant groupings. I can't wait to get started.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book gives easy to follow ideas on how to produce layers of color in your gardens.
PreoccupiedPansy More than 1 year ago
I read this book cover to cover rather than just looking at the pictures and reading select captions, as I do with many garden books. I found Mr. Culp's enthusiasm to be contagious and I was charmed by his literally down-to-earth description of the evolution of his gardens. The beautiful photos were perfect illustrations of his informative topics. I believe I will use it in the future as a reference on plant layering.