Gardeners And Tervis Tumbler-Seekers, Find Your Paradise At Mount Cuba

Have you discovered the joys of Tervis, the insulated drinkware that reduces condensation and keeps beverages their original temperatures longer?

My Tervis water bottle is such a fixture that it was high time to track down a Tervis tumbler.  I searched for just the right one at retailers and official Tervis stores, but left empty-handed. I found the perfect one, quite by accident, at an unlikely place: the Mount Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware.

Lammot du Pont Copeland — nephew of Pierre du Pont, the creator of Longwood Gardens — and his wife, Pamela, chose the estate along Red Clay Creek, northwest of Wilmington, for their first home in 1935. They chose to build their home on a 400-foot-high hill known as Mount Cuba, which was originally called “Cuba Rock” by a 18th-century Irish settler.

Inspired by their love of historic American decorative arts and the recent restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, the Copelands built a Virginia Georgian home of handmade brick, furnishing it with Chippendale-style antiques and period paneling from Southern homes.

A wide center hall led to dining and living areas, as well as a library and rooms to store wine, silver, and even the family dog’s bathroom. Despite its historic appearance, the home featured all the latest conveniences, including an elevator, an incinerator and a basement shooting range.  

“Tell your guests if they only put one flower on their table, it will bring joy to their day,” Mrs. Copeland once remarked to a Mount Cuba Center docent. In the house’s conservatory,

…the hand-painted walls include a depiction of a statue which Mrs. Copeland referred to as her Works Progress Administration (WPA) gardener; “he’s the one leaning on his shovel,” she is said to have remarked.

Avid gardeners who loved native plants, the Copelands worked with landscape architects to plan a series of terraces, formal garden rooms, cutting gardens and eventually greenhouses, as Mrs. Copeland became a serious horticulturist. Marian Coffin, one of those designers, created dramatic mass plantings of single species, such as azaleas, in the late 1940s.  Her round garden, bordered by flower beds that change with the seasons and marked by a swimming pool in the shape of a Maltese cross, is particularly stunning in the spring, when hundreds of lavender, white, pink and rose tulips were in bloom. To recreate this effect, plant Violet Beauty, Maureen, Shirley, Salmon Impression, Dordogne, Dreamland, Menton, Pink Diamond and Renown tulip bulbs.

Turn one way from the round garden and see “Samara Turning with the Wind,” a 2009 sculpture by Andre Harvey of Rockland, Delaware. This 10-foot-tall depiction of the maple tree fruit that spins like a propeller as it falls to the ground moves with the breeze or a touch of the hand. I turned the other way and beheld an allée of lilacs in bloom, underplanted with pansies in mimicking hues.

In 1965, the Copelands designed a native garden. Trails meander through a woods that have been planted with over 100 species of Piedmont flora, some with terrific names like blue dogbane, sharped-lobed liverleaf, two-leaf toothwort, fairy wand, Virginia spring-beauty, Quaker ladies, bishop’s cap, foamflower and large-flowered wakerobin.

Mount Cuba Center includes a nationally accredited trillium collection, dating to the 1960s and containing examples of every trillium species native to the eastern United States. This is invaluable to researchers, as they can find nearly everything they need to study about these ephemeral spring-blooming forest plants right here, rather than track down wild populations of each species.

 

 

Amateur gardeners can also rely on the collection to discover fascinating facts about trilliums. For example, their flowers aren’t just that familiar white; they range from lemon-yellow to deep maroon. The faint scent of their three-petaled flowers attracts different types of pollinators. Sweet-smelling trilliums attract bees, while files and beetles like foul-smelling ones. Since new trilliums can take as long as seven years to flower, and even longer to establish themselves, some plants in Mount Cuba’s collection are 50 years old.

Mr. Copeland, who presided over the DuPont chemical company from 1962 to 1967, passed away in 1983. Following Mrs. Copeland’s death in 2001, the estate became a public botanic garden of more than 50 acres, surrounded by more than 500 acres of natural lands. Today, Mount Cuba Center is a renowned destination for the study of Piedmont flora, or plants native to the hilly upland region of the Eastern United States, between the Atlantic coast and the Appalachian mountains. Many of these plants are threatened or endangered. Its collection includes 2,200 native plant species.

Test gardens at Mount Cuba Center lead to the propagation of cultivars that are released to the nursery trade, such as Heuchera “Palace Purple.” The center also offers an ecological gardening certificate program, which emphasizes identifying native plants, attracting wildlife beneficial to gardening, and practicing ecologically sound horticultural techniques.

A showy double form of the trillium species, Trillium grandiflorum ‘Pamela Copeland,’ was named for Mount Cuba Center’s founder. To see the climbing monkshood pictured on my Tervis tumbler in its brilliant blue-purpled full bloom, visit Mount Cuba Center in mid-September. Whatever time of year you visit, stop to admire the forged-iron double entrance gate created by Greg Leavitt and his daughter, Camille, of Leavitt Studios in Berks County, Pennsylvania. One gate features a representation of an oak tree measuring almost 10 feet tall, with trilliums, rhododendrons, ferns, lady slipper orchid, Jack-in-the-pulpit and violet wood sorrell around the tree trunk. A rhododendron with more woodland flowers is pictured on the other gate.

For more on the Mount Cuba Center, read Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, by William M. Klein, Jr., and The Du Ponts: Houses and Gardens in the Brandywine, 1900-1951, by Maggie Lidz. Travis Beck, director of horticulture at the Mount Cuba Center, is the author of Principles of Ecological Landscape Design.

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