A hard act to follow

Bulb views from the pages of The Layered Garden
Bulb views from the pages of The Layered Garden

But at least he agrees with me on one of my most cherished gardening principles.

culpI was privileged to be on the same bill with David Culp at Rochester’s Gathering of Gardeners on Saturday, and I can assure you that I was as entranced as the rest of the audience when Culp unfolded the story of Brandywine Cottage, his 2-acre show garden near Philadelphia. I took plenty of notes on the plants and strategies he recommended. If you have a chance to hear him, within any kind of reasonable traveling distance, by all means take it. Culp is an inspirational garden speaker, with plenty of warmth and self-effacing sincerity. It helps that many of his slides are sourced from his book, The Layered Garden, which features gorgeous photography by Rob Cardillo.

So, given that bulb buying season is in full swing, I’m happy to say that Culp and I are on the same page about using tulips as annuals. If you’re planting close to 2,000 bulbs a year, as he is, it’s a given that you’re not expecting a reliable return and—with that in mind—you’re probably not allowing unsightly foliage to hang around very long. This is a timely topic. I have already ordered 800 or so bulbs, with a few stray orders still to go out. I will be planting hundreds in large pots, a few hundred (mostly species) in the ground, and a couple hundred will go in the root cellar for forcing. The only bulbs I expect any longevity from are the galanthus, muscari, narcissus (not many), erythroniums, and species tulips. The hybrid tulips will be planted in tight clumps or big pots and thrown in the compost bin at the end of their season—with no regrets. (Like many other gardeners, Culp addresses the deer problem with repellents and some fencing.) I was happy to see how important bulbs and spring ephemerals were in the Brandywine Cottage landscape.

We also agree on two of my favorite H plants, hakonechloa and hellebores. After looking at images of these two plants tumbling together down his hillside garden, I vowed to plant the two in close proximity  from now on; their textures and colors look great together. Of the two, I have found hellebores the most valuable, especially under the gloom of my Norway maples. The flowers last for a full two months or even longer, and the foliage forms a big sculptural mound.

If you want to know more about this gardener and how he does it, pick up The Layered Garden (Timber Press, 2012).  (Susan has already posted on the book and the gardener here and here.) In some ways, Culp’s interests and priorities remind me of another favorite gardener, Christopher Lloyd.

My talks were on bulbs and front garden strategies. I described some of the front garden controversies we’ve had in Buffalo and, of course, tried to pass along my bulb obsession. As—and I warn you—I’ll continue to do here over the next few posts.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. So jealous that you heard David speak! A bulb
    ordering frenzy here at the moment.Looking forward to your future bulb articles.

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