On Thursday I visited the Mount Cuba Center located northwest of Wilmington, Delaware. Beginning in 1935, the property was developed by Lammot du Pont Copeland and Pamela Cunningham Copeland. The du Pont family founded the chemical empire that brought the world such marvelous fabrics as Nylon, Kevlar, and Nomex (just to name a few). Many gardens and mansions built by members of the du Pont family are now open to the public. The largest and best known are Longwood Gardens near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and the Winterthur Museum northwest of Wilmington, Delaware.
Mount Cuba is a smaller and less well known horticultural center nestled in the rolling hills of the Piedmont. The site is somewhat under the radar and many longtime Delaware residents have never been there. I’d heard of it some time ago, but had completely forgotten about it until I came across its entrance while exploring the back roads near Ashland Covered Bridge.
The home the Copelands built is modest in comparison with other du Pont family mansions like Winterthur or Nemours. Near the mansion sits the Round Garden, designed by pioneering landscape architect Marian C. Coffin (1876 – 1957). Her work is can also be seen nearby at Wintherthur and on the University of Delaware campus. The Round Garden features a pool surrounded by a ring of tulips that were beginning to bloom during my visit.
I shot photos in aperture priority, experimenting with different settings in order to isolate particular flowers or make sure an entire group was in focus. Generally, I found shooting wide open in order to achieve a limited depth of field had disappointing results. I was most pleased with photos shot at f/8 to f/10.
Though the gardens adjacent to the Copeland home are fairly traditional, other gardens on the grounds have a different character. There is an experimental garden protected by a fence, but nothing was blooming there just yet. Unlike other gardens like Winterthur, which feature predominantly imported plants, the areas along the Woods Path and West Slope Path at Mount Cuba were developed to showcase plants native to eastern North America. They may be somewhat less spectacular overall but they’re certainly varied and attractive.
It is my impression that ornamental trees planted in suburban Delaware are dominated by flowering trees of Asian origin such as Callery pears, cherry blossoms, and crepe myrtles. Mount Cuba showcases a particularly beautiful selection of two trees native to the eastern woodlands, the eastern redbud and flowering dogwood.
Despite the name, redbud blossoms are generally more of a pink color and have an interesting shape when examined up close. Supposedly the flowers are edible!
Though otherwise well manicured, fallen trees appear to be left alone to eventually decay back into the soil, nourishing the beds of flowers that surround them.
When possible, I tried to isolate sunlit flowers against shadowy backdrops. This is one time when digital cameras’ naturally low dynamic range capabilities can actually be an advantage!
Here’s a selection of beautiful plants native to eastern North America photographed at Mount Cuba:
If You Go…
The Mount Cuba Center is open from 10am to 4pm, Wednesday through Sunday. (Accurate as of spring 2016) Admission is $10/person (or $45 for a season pass, including four guest passes plus a free native plant or $90 for a family pass including eight guest passes). Over the summer, prospective visitors may wish to purchase the Brandywine Valley Treasure Trail Passport (available online for $45 individual, $90 family), a pass which allows a single admission to each of 11 area gardens and museums from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Allow one to two hours to explore the Mount Cuba Center grounds.
Series on the Mount Cuba Center
Photographing Spring Flowers at the Mount Cuba Center