July 22, 2011 – Mt. Cuba Center, DE
(written by Sara Levin, photographs by Quill Teal-Sullivan and Martin Smit)
The First Year Longwood Graduate Fellows’ inaugural summer field trip was to the Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware. Historically, this property was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland who transformed open farmland into the woodland gardens and wildlife landscape we find there today. The Copelands bought the property in 1935 and started their plant collection soon thereafter. Native plants became their great interest, which is still clear today in the garden’s mission to remain “…dedicated to the study, conservation, and appreciation of plants native to the Appalachian Piedmont region through garden display, education, and research.” Currently, Mt. Cuba Center works to balance several contrasts: public/private, open/secluded, contemporary/ traditional, native/non-native.
As a non-profit organization, Mt. Cuba Center is in its infancy and is in the process of determining its priorities and direction of growth. At the moment, the garden is open to the public by appointment only (with the exception of an annual Wildflower Day each spring). This limits the foot traffic and helps preserve the plant collection.
The grounds are designed with elegance and intent. As you move away from the main house, the gardens become wilder. The foot paths wind through the grounds in such a way that you can never see too far ahead on your walk, adding a sense of mystery. The woodland garden was not only beautiful but on a record hot day, we found comfort in the shade of the giant tulip poplars and white pines.
As the mission states, there is a great emphasis on native plants, especially those native to the Piedmont region (a geological region stretching from New York to Alabama, just west of the Atlantic Coastal Plain). This does not mean that you will only find native plants at Mt. Cuba Center. History and legacy are also considered in the plant collection and some non-native plants remain as a reminder of the family that once lived on the grounds and thought highly enough to plant them.
The First Year Fellows were lucky to have Mt. Cuba Center Director Rick Lewandowski as our knowledgeable guide. Mr. Lewandowski shared many of their exciting programs and important collections with our group. Mt. Cuba Center does extensive plant research and is looking to expand in this area with a new plant trials research facility on its way. It is also the local authority on trilliums, not to be missed in the spring!
After an extensive tour of the grounds, the Fellows joined a few key staff members for lunch and were able to gain more insight into the workings of Mt. Cuba Center. A return trip is slated for the fall to enjoy the changing colors and to revisit this woodland retreat.