Friday, December 27, 2013

The Layered Garden by David L. Culp: A review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A long-time writer and lecturer about gardening, David Culp, along with his partner, Michael Alderfer, has spent some twenty years creating their two-acre garden at Brandywine College in Downington, Pennsylvania. In this book, Culp shares the lessons he has learned from that experience.

The Brandywine garden is a layered garden, which simply means that it is a garden with plantings that are planned in order to provide a succession of eye-catching combinations (layers) of interest and beauty from earliest spring right into winter. It is a true four-season garden.

The way that Culp and his partner achieved a four-season garden in Pennsylvania is not necessarily the way that I would achieve it in Southeast Texas. The plants will be different with very little overlap because our climates and our soils are different, but the principles embraced by Culp and recommended by him have application regardless of the area in which one gardens.

The design technique of layering involves the interplanting of many different species in the same area so that as one plant passes its peak, another takes over, with the result that one can have a nonstop parade of color throughout the year. It is a technique of succession planting so that an area is never lacking in color and interest.

The basis of this method is, of course, knowing how to choose the correct plants for your area by understanding how they grow and change throughout the seasons. Then, one must have some idea of how to design a layered garden and know how and be willing to maintain it.

To illustrate these basics, Culp takes the reader on a personal tour through the several parts of his celebrated garden. We get to see the woodland garden, the perennial border, the kitchen garden, the shrubbery, and the walled garden and witness how they change throughout the year.

The final chapter of the book explores the signature plants used in the garden for all four seasons. Many of these signature plants will not be appropriate for other hotter or drier areas of the country. Peonies and hellebores, for example, will not find a home in my garden. Still, there are some plants that we have in common, like roses, members of the lilium family, asters, etc., and the practical advice and ideas behind the plantings are applicable anywhere. Applying them should make it possible to have a four-season garden in any climate.

Finally, I was glad to see a listing at the end of the book of some of Culp's own favorite garden books. They are works by many of his gardening heroes and heroines who are mentioned throughout the book. They represent a veritable encyclopedic range of knowledge about the art and science of gardening, and the list includes several books that I would very much like to add to my own bookshelves.

(A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for the purposes of this review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.)


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