Review and Giveaway: The Layered Garden, by David Culp

For reasons we don’t need to go into here, I find myself in possession of two hard cover copies of David Culp’s The Layered Garden. I figured this was a good reason to do something I have never done before: a giveaway (of the extra book). Details at the end of this post.

The Layered Garden is a fun read. It is best understood as a tour of Culp’s spectacular 2 acre garden at Brandywine Cottage in Pennsylvania, This includes a loving consideration, organized by season, of the many genera that are the object of Culp’s obsessions: snowdrops, hellebores, peonies, alliums, lilies, etc. (Culp is an accomplished breeder of some of these.)

the layered garden

Culp also discusses his guiding garden design principles, but for me that would be a secondary reason for reading this book. Not that those principles are not highly valuable, but they can be found elsewhere. Not so for the vicarious walk through the grounds of Brandywine Cottage.

By “layered garden”, Culp means multi-dimensional in all possible ways: “… to get the most interest from any garden, all the layers need to be considered, from the ground level to the middle level of shrubs and small trees up to the canopy trees.” The seasons also comprise layers of a kind, as do different sections of the garden, so that intensity of interest shifts from bed to bed as the months go by (including the winter months).

Like Christopher Lloyd and other admirable garden writers, Culp disdains rules and believes gardening should be an expression of the gardeners’ passion and a means of having fun. This comes across strongly as Culp shows us around his garden, which given its size and topography provides a mix of opportunities most urban or suburban gardeners could only dream of: steep and flat, shade and sun, moist and dry.

I especially loved the description of his “Ruin Garden”, which is built on the foundation of an old stone barn: “… the most exciting feature of this space … is how the vertical walls are covered with plants. I started planting in existing crevices where the mortar had dislodged … I began deliberately loosening other stones (like a child jiggling a loose tooth) until they fell out.”

He makes ample use of troughs as containers in the Ruin Garden: “I started out with two troughs, but over the years I have learned that one or two of anything looks timid and tentative. I now have twenty-seven …” A gardener after my own heart!

David Culp
David Culp

So if you would like a copy of The Layered Garden of your very own, just write a comment no later than Monday, June 30th, at 7 PM CST, answering the question: what is your all-time favorite garden book? A winner will be picked at random. If you want to comment but are not interested in receiving the book, just make a note of that in your comment.



64 Comments on “Review and Giveaway: The Layered Garden, by David Culp”

  1. I have many favorites and two at the top of my list would be Christopher Lloyd’s “Well-Tempered Garden” and “Earth on Her Hands: The American Woman in Her Garden”. The gardening book I love most was written by an American – it is Green thoughts; A Writer in The Garden by Eleanor Perenyi. I have read it several times since it came out (the year I started gardening seriously).
    I won’t take part in the draw – I am trying to reduce the number of books I have, though Cup’s is a very good work, I borrowed it from the library.

      • Actually, A Writer in the Garden is the sub-title of Green Thoughts (I would not have known either but I checked that I had the title right). The only other book of her I read is ‘More Was Lost’ which is an autobiography. It is also very interesting, especially the part dealing with when she lived in Hungary and had to escape the nazis.

  2. I just became the owner of part a friend’s huge garden book collection so my answer may change but I’ve always loved Steve Bender’s book Passalong Plants. It was the first garden book I’d ever read that was funny and real instead of being stiff and fussy. I’ve had it for about 15 years and still refer to it.

  3. Love the idea of the ruin garden as well! Before my divorce (15yrs ago) we owned a really fantastic antique beach house (it was the original caretaker’s cottage for a Newport style mansion that had been turned into luxury condos across the green) Anyway, next to the caretaker’s cottage behind one of those wonderful old new england stone walls sat the estate’s original garden patch Of course the walls were crumbling and the gardens pretty overrun by wildflowers but man, was it a beauty of a place. Our side porch overlooked the garden’s side wall and each spring when we opened the house I’d shove all kinds of potted annuals in the crevices. The effect was much as your book describes, wild and unique.
    Oddly enough the garden was deeded in such a way that no matter how the the estate was sold off over time, no one could purchase the land on which Hetty Green’s garden stood. This suited us fine because it meant we got extra beauty next door without worrying someone would scoop the property up and demolish it in favor of some inappropriate (for the location) modern house!

  4. Oh my goodness, so hard to choose just one all-time favorite! My favorite garden reading tends toward garden memoirs and essays, but I don’t think I could choose just one of those as a favorite. Then there are my go-to reference books. But if I have to choose just one all-time favorite, I’m going to choose Ruah Donnelly’s The Adventurous Gardener: Where to Buy the Best Plants in New England (Horticultural Press, 2000) because this book introduced me to a whole new world of specialty nurseries and changed the way I thought about plants. Most of the plants in my garden today came from nurseries that I learned about from this book.

  5. One of my favorite books (although it’s hard to choose just one) is Rick Darke’s The American Woodland Garden. His sensitivity to the subtleties of the landscape is inspiring and very helpful in understanding gardens through time and the processes that shape them. Rick is a master of working with nature to create outstanding beauty.

  6. I really love “A Year at North Hill” by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd. The writing is lovely and the gardens must really be astonishing. When I got it, I read it just a little at a time so it would last.

  7. I have to admit that Culp’s book is tied for my favorite with Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials. The photos in Culp’s book are to die for and have helped get me through depressing winters. I had the good fortune to tour his garden in person last year (I wrote about it on my blog). His recall of plants is phenomenal – point to any plant or tree or bush anywhere on his property and in .002 seconds he’ll tell you the Latin name, the common name, and the variety.

    I’m going to check out the other favorites in the comments – love the recommendations!

  8. OH I would so love this book!!! I am only 7 years into my garden and have so much to learn! This just sounds fantastic! Hmmmm my favorite garden book…..Succession Planting for Year-Round Pleasure by Christopher Lloyd! Happy week to you Jason! Nicole

  9. What fun… a giveaway! I have SO many garden books its hard to choose a fave, but the one I pick up & consult most often is Ken Druse’s Making More Plants (the science, art, and joy of propagation). Mr Culp’s book sounds like a good one.

  10. A great review! I havent read it so I’m intrigued. My favorite garden book might be Joe Eck and Wayne Winterowd’s “Our Life in Gardens” which, to me, is a love story. It is chapter after wonderful chapter of their shared love of plants and the garden. It doesnt actually talk about their love of plants, but the depth and interest in each plant discussed is infused with joy somehow, that I translate to love.

  11. I need to find some time this summer to sit down with the garden books I meant to sit down with last winter. The Layered Garden is one of them.. I started but then it turned into snowdrop season and we were off!
    Anything by Henry Mitchell is a favorite. Interesting, entertaining, and funny! My kind of books.

  12. My favorite book is by Mirabelle (?) Osler _ A Gentle Plea for Chaos_. I have read about this book you are giving away. I think it would be quite valuable and I would hope a good read.

  13. Hi! This sounds like a great book and I have not read it. I love Christopher Lloyd as well and have enjoyed his “Succession Planting for year-round Pleasure.” I look at it at least once per season! I also like Nigel Colborn’s “Great Plants for Small Gardens.” But my all time favorite (for now) is more about what goes on in a gardener’s head and life and this book is called “Back In The Garden With Dulcy.” Dulcy Mahar was a garden columnist for The Oregonian for many, many years. She is the best combination of obsessed gardener and humorist there is. This book is a collection of her columns over the years and it is awesome. Just published this year. It gives good solid advice and connects with the gardener at an emotional/kinship level. Even though I do not live in the NW now, it is still pertinent to my gardening adventures. You simply must give it a look! Thanks for this post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: