It’s the middle of January, and I’m hungry for spring. Spring won’t come for another couple of months in my climate, so I whet my appetite with inspirational gardening books. One of my favorites is The Layered Garden (aff. link) by David Culp. I reviewed that book seven years ago and it’s still one of my all-time favorites. I re-read it at least once a year, and often more frequently, for the gorgeous photographs and the exuberant love of gardening that comes through in the writing.
But I’ve always found the book a little frustrating for the plants left unidentified. Yes, that golden-leaved lily-of-valley on page 38 looks fabulous with the yellow-flowering Trillium luteum, but what is the name of it? And The Layered Garden wasn’t organized chronologically, so it was sometimes tricky to keep track of what happened when.
Enter A Year at Brandywine Cottage: Six Seasons of Beauty, Bounty, and Blooms (aff. link), David Culp’s second book. I think of this as the companion volume to The Layered Garden. Organized chronologically through the seasons, A Year at Brandywine Cottage is part gardening memoir and part lifestyle inspiration–with some recipes thrown in for good measure. The photography by Rob Cardillo is just as lovely as in The Layered Garden, and David’s writing is just as chatty and heartfelt.
In October 2018 I had the opportunity to visit David Culp and his garden at Brandywine Cottage, before the publication of his second book. David talks just the way he writes in both of these books, full of enthusiasm and passion. You never know when a plant will launch him into a little story of how it came into his garden or a certain day when he found it particularly beautiful. This is part of the charm of both books: they read as rambling conversations–just as if you were walking beside him.
A Year At Brandywine Cottage introduces the newest part of his garden, the Meadowette, and an updated map is included on the endpapers. I love garden maps. I firmly believe that every book or article about a specific garden should have a map of that garden. Even better, the vantage point of each photograph should be marked on the map–which is really only feasible in an article. A garden map makes it much easier to understand the layout of the garden and to orient the photographs to one another.
David Culp’s six seasons are Early Spring, Late Spring, Summer, Early Fall, Late Fall, and Winter. He gardens in USDA Zone 6b. In my colder climate, the months are apportioned differently, but the general sequence of bloom is the same. (February is early spring for him, but is most definitely still winter here.) He does get snow, but not persistent snow cover, and has blooms in every month of the year. My snowdrops, witch hazels, and hellebores–his winter bloomers–don’t show up until March. But there is enough overlap of plants hardy to both our gardens that I don’t begrudge him the few he can grow that I can’t.
There is a chapter for each month. In each chapter he describes the signature plants of that month, shows how he uses the garden’s bounty to create floral arrangements and the still-lifes he calls taborets, and shares a few recipes. The recipes reflect his Pennsylvania Dutch heritage or are favorites shared by friends, and feature ingredients he grows in his own garden. Black walnut cookies, ground cherry pie, and sauteed fiddlehead ferns are some of the intriguing offerings.
When I finished reading A Year at Brandywine Cottage, I wished it hadn’t ended. I wanted more–a sure sign of a keeper. If you are engulfed by winter doldrums, you will want to read them both. And I now know the golden-leaved lily-of-the-valley is ‘Fernwood’s Golden Slippers,’ and the hunt is on!