Written and photographed by Tovah Martin
Gardening is an ongoing affair — go to the Hollister House Garden Study Weekend and rekindle your late-season romance.
When David Culp said, “I had to totally revamp my lecture,” I knew we were in for a momentous treat. David Culp was referring to the talk he’ll be giving for the Hollister House Garden Study Weekend on Saturday, Sept. 10, entitled “The Best of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” The Garden Study Weekend has become a much-anticipated local event for gardeners and lay-people as well.
Timed to coincide with an interlude when we’re looking back on the season and ready for a recap, this symposium really gets your wheels turning by offering a roster of expert speakers who share nuts and bolts advice and knowledge. You’ll be doing lots of learning, so don’t forget the notepad. Plus, Hollister House is in high prime. The event is strategically scheduled to coincide with one of the finest interludes in George Schoellkopf’s superlative garden which rivals the grounds surrounding the finest estates in England.
Hollister House has personality, individuality, pluck, and incredibly good taste. The design is presented with a decidedly Yankee twang. Far from the sterile straight and narrow manor promenades and ho hum hedges, you’ve got to factor in Schoellkopf’s wit and very American independence. Add a vast array of unique plants to that brew, and you’ve got a destination worth seeing over and over again. You might as well time a visit for the festivities at the Garden Study Weekend when the garden will be open at the conclusion of the symposium.
Plant collecting is a theme that has followed the Garden Study Weekends throughout their five previous iterations. And true to tradition, in his symposium lecture, David Culp will be getting everyone up to speed on the newest and latest in plant breeding. Culp has been gardening his entire life, starting as a “yard boy” in high school.
“I was always connected to the land,” Culp affirmed. “Both grandparents grew perennial borders all around their houses. I mean, their homes were completely surrounded by gardens.” Do some simple math, and it’s clear that Culp’s family was playing with perennials long before working with plants that perform year after year came into vogue. Who could be better suited to talk about “The Best of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” than this gardener? Currently the vice president of sales and marketing for Sunny Border Nurseries, Inc as well as the Sunny Border sales representative for New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, he knows the trends.
“My job takes me around the world,” said Culp. What he sees during his travels will be revealed in the talk. But even more to the point, he has spent the last 26 years designing his legendary, intensely planted, 2-acre garden in Pennsylvania. Brandywine Cottage is the subject of his recent, much-acclaimed book, “The Layered Garden” (Timber Press, 2012), which discusses designing with density throughout the seasons. “My love of plants has taken me a long way,” he asserts.
David Culp needed to update his lecture to reflect all the advances currently happening in horticulture. His topic is a sort of “we’ve come a long way” tracery of where perennials have been and where they are going. The sneak peeks at improvements coming in the future are what everyone is dying to know. In particular, Culp plans to discuss “iconic perennials” such as Salvia “May Night” and compare it with novelties being introduced. If you’re planning to add plants to your garden, you need insight into what the future holds. Plus, the plant sale at Hollister House later that evening features specialty nurseries ready, willing, and able to get your garden up-to-date.
Culp will be flashing pictures of new geums, veronicas, salvias and other improved workhorses for your garden. Never tried a geum before? Culp is going to whet your appetite with all the new hues on the market.
“I try to help people expand their plant vocabulary,” he explains. Can’t choose just one? Culp has some brilliant advice. “Mix gradations of color together.” Culp suggests displaying several nuances of color side by side. “It looks more naturalistic,” he explained. And his lecture is jam-packed with many similar insightful suggestions from a gardener who knows his stuff.
Furthermore, Culp will be dangling images of everything from hardy orchids to golden Sanguisorba canadensis (the Canadian burnet) in front of our eager eyes. Well-versed in what survives in our region (Sunny Border Nurseries is a wholesale venue based in Connecticut supplying most of our local retailers), his eye candy is definitely within our realm of reality. “I’ve got my ear to the ground; I’ve seen the trial beds,” says Culp, “I know about the possibilities for the future.” Sounds very exciting!
Culp is just one of several equally hard-hitting speakers. Also on the program for the symposium on Saturday, Sept. 10 is Arne Maynard, a UK-based, internationally acclaimed landscape architect and two-time RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner, who will dazzle us with his design work in Britain and abroad. Closer to home, the beloved plantswoman Page Dickey (who now resides in Litchfield County, but for many years lived and gardened in nearby Westchester County) will discuss “Self-Seeding in the Garden” — a topic of fascination for many gardeners. Harnessing nature’s bounty in your garden but also knowing when nature’s generosity needs to be edited is what gardening is all about. Quill Teal-Sullivan will also take to the podium to describe the reclamation of Meadowburn Farm, the early 19th Century New Jersey estate of garden writer Helena Rutherfurd Ely. In addition, Andrew Brand and Chris Koppel of Broken Arrow Nursery will stage a heated East vs West debate based on their vast knowledge of shrubs, trees, and perennials. Meanwhile, Bill Noble — also an animated speaker — will moderate the lively proceedings throughout the day.
But there’s more! The learning spree will not end when the speakers wrap up. After the symposium—which takes place at The Heritage Hotel in Southbury — attendees are invited to visit the Hollister House Garden in Washington. Vendors from near and far (including Opus from Rhode Island, Linden Hill from Pennsylvania, and McCue Gardens from Wethersfield) will be selling specialty plants. The plant sale will continue on the following day, Sept. 11, when three local gardens will join Hollister House to open their gates to tours through the Garden Conservancy Open Days Program.
The Garden Study Weekend symposium will be held on Sept. 10 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at The Heritage Hotel in Southbury, followed by cocktails and a rare plant sale open to ticket holders at Hollister House in Washington. For more information on the event and to purchase tickets, go to www.hollisterhousegarden.org. The Garden Conservancy Open Days tours are scheduled for 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11. For information on the Sunday Open Days and to purchase tickets go to www.gardenconservancy.org/open-days.