Delightful home gardens near Philadelphia

October 15, 2017

What a treat it was to visit several gardens in the Philadelphia/Brandywine Valley area that were actually personal home gardens.  Thanks to Marian St. Clair and Hortitopia tours, we got to see three of them last week.  This is where the real advantage of taking a tour with a professional pays off.  These gardens are not generally open to the public.

david culp

David is a garden designer, speaker and garden writer.  His recent book, The Layered Garden, is award-winning.  David is one of many speakers that I’ve heard who has actually had a changing impact on my garden.  I now have a ‘layered garden’ and David’s advice with regard to Irises has given me nearly six months of blooming Iris in my garden.

David gardens “Brandywine”, an overflowing, full, colorful work of art.  He purchased his property 27 years ago, complete with a house that dates from 1790.  The house has been restored and is David’s home.  The property is steeply sloped, and starting with the drive way in, you see David’s touch in every spot of the garden.

There is a vegetable garden in the center of his property, surrounded by a white picket fence with a lovely stone bird bath in its center.  This garden is surrounded on the outside by a perennial border.  Goldenrod was in full glory, accentuating the variety of perennials and non-hardy plants in these borders.

His shade garden contains a spectacular variegated dogwood, many hellebores – all meticulously hand planted by David and his partner to look like natural drifts on the slope of his hill.

The garden we saw in the fall was different from his garden in the spring, when daffodils, iris and tulips cover his hillside and fill the perennial beds.  As the bulbs die down, perennials grow up through the bulbs to take over the summer garden show.  Loads of containers fill the area in front of his house.

David has help – the occasional intern.  Otherwise, he and his partner maintain everything by themselves.



David Culp in front of his home showing us his beautiful, full, containers.
The perennial border, surrounding the vegetable garden behind the picket fence. The 1790 farmhouse is in the background.













bob lyons

Bob is a horticulture professor at the University of Delaware.  His garden is young.  That’s because there was a day when he took a trip to his mail box to get his mail, only to watch his home literally explode in front of his eyes.  Everything was gone, except the small spring house you can see in the foot of one of these photos.  Bob started over, and now has a new home and garden.

Bob Lyons standing in front of his mixed border. This plant is related to our poinsettia.
Bob’s new home, his fabulous mixed border in front of his house, and the springhouse on the lower right corner – the only thing that survived the explosion.














The colorful mixed border leading to his front door.
A lovely back yard.













Bob loves color and a full garden.  The entrance to his home is one colorful plant on top of the other.  He does fertilize, and the growth is spectacular.  He starts many of his annuals from seeds collected each year.  He really has an eye for great color and texture combinations.

Bob was was a wonderful host – he even baked treats for us.  Clearly, his garden is the work of his heart.  He has no help maintaining all this; he does it by himself.  And, he has a day job.

Charles cresson

Charles Cresson lives on his family home, three acres of land in Swarthmore, PA.  His grandfather built the house he lives in in 1920, and much of the trees and plants date to the original house.  Charles is a garden author, horticulturist and plantsman.  He graciously allowed us to tour his garden and provided us with a lot of useful plant information.


Here is Charles standing in front of his home and in front of the Japanese Maple planted by his grandfather.  The Japanese maple was about 20 years old when his grandfather moved it to its current location.  That means the tree is well over 100 years old.  The formation of these branches was just stunning.








Here is another view of the Japanese Maple.  This is a sight not often seen.
















Here is our first view of Charles’ mixed border.  A central area of grass is surrounded by a border with warm colors to the left and cool colors to the right.  I thought this was genius.  That way you never have to remember which colors you planted where – they’ll always go together.










Sometimes you are in the right spot at the right time.  Look at this beautiful butterfly on the lantana.












Another view of the spectacular mixed border.  It was just so lovely.









Behind the mixed border, Charles maintains a water garden, the banks of a stream that runs along the back of his property, a vegetable garden and various containers.  All of which get moved indoors for the winter.

Charles has some help from interns, but otherwise maintains his garden by himself.

take aways

Gardens are a work of love.  Each garden we visited had been designed by its owner with their particular tastes and ideas of beauty in mind.  They had been tended with great care.  Each gardener was thrilled to share his creation with us.  They were proud and happy and gracious.

A great garden takes lots of time to grow up.  David Culp’s garden has been in process for 27 years, Charles Cresson’s garden has been growing since the time of his grandfather.  And even Bob Lyon’s garden, only three years old, was set in the context of a wooded area that was mature.

Gardens are a lot of work.  Lots of time and back-breaking labor had gone into these gardens.  Charles says he has several back issues as a result of carrying his containers indoors and up three flights of stairs to his attic “greenhouse’.  Charles and David both have some help.

Fertilize.  All these gardeners fertilize.  Some more than others, but they all added something.  This accounts for the full, hearty growth.  There was nothing puny in these gardens.

You will fail.  Each gardener was able to tell us about things that they had tried that did not work. They simply planted something else that did work.

Use Cannas.  Every garden I visited, both personal and public, used them widely.  The striking foliage and the height of the plant, plus color, made it a necessary back-bone of every single mixed border I saw.

If gardening is in your blood, embrace it.  No matter how it looks or how you feel, get out there in your garden!



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I am a retired CPA who is now a Master Gardener. I spend my time gardening, doing tile mosaic, and visiting grandchildren.


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