Visiting Mt. Cuba Center Native Plant Botanical Garden

Travel

Gazebo overlooking a pond at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

I’ve found The Secret Garden and it’s Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware. The one-time private estate is now a public garden and research center with nearly 600 acres of managed natural lands and another almost two dozen acres of gardens. I recently had the chance to visit Mt. Cuba Center with my husband and it was even more lovely than we had expected.

The front of the house at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

The house at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Landscaped garden at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Flowers line a moss covered brick wall at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Flowers cover on a bench at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

The History Behind Mt. Cuba Center

In 1935, Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland purchased more than a hundred acres of farmland. There they built a home. Over the decades the couple acquired additional land and continued to create gardens on their property. Landscape designers like Thomas W. Sears, Marian C. Coffin and Seth Kelsey all worked on these projects at one time or another. But as they continued forward, the du Pont Copeland’s always did so with the intent of creating naturalistic gardens.

Unlike nearby estates with a link to the du Pont family (such as Longwood Gardens and Nemours Mansion and Gardens), Mt. Cuba Center is not quite as lavish or indulgent. Don’t misunderstand: the couple clearly lived a more than comfortable life. But their passions were expressed in a more understated way, relatively speaking.

By the 1980s, Mr. du Pont Copeland had died. Within a few years, the ball started rolling on the creation of the Mt. Cuba Center as a foundation. And it was only five years ago, in 2013 that Mt. Cuba Center fully opened to the public.



Orange honeysuckle at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Moss Phlox at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

A maple seed statue at Mt. Cuba in Delaware.

Iris flowers and a water spicket at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Green-and-Gold flowers at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

A Visit to Mt. Cuba Center

From a pond with a gazebo that would inspire painter Claude Monet to gardens of every size, shape and style, Mt. Cuba knows how to delight. The du Pont Copeland’s former home acts as a jump off point for visitors. Beautifully restored, the home itself is a treasure. But even greater jewels await outside.

Directly off the home are carefully landscaped gardens that could inspire anyone regardless of whether or not you have a green thumb. Walkways are neatly lined with a variety of flowers and plants. Mt. Cuba is about so much more than just pretty flowers. There are fascinating plants of all types. The bees seemed especially fond of the purple flowers of the spiderwort. Planters offer inspiration for those of us with less area (or less patience). And when you least expect it, a small water feature pops up and leads to a really special sculpture, Samara Turning in the Wind by artist AndrĂ© Harvey. The sculpture is a 10 foot tall maple seed pod that would make any squirrel hungry. (Coincidentally you can see more of Harvey’s work at the nearby Brandywine River Museum of Art.)

A bee on purple Spiderwort at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

A water feature at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

A sign for the Trial Garden at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Inside the Trial Garden at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Mt. Cuba is full of variation and that’s what makes it fun. True to the foundation’s goal of championing native plants, they do a lot of research. Visitors are welcome to take a walk through the Trial Garden. There you can see a dizzying array of variations of plants. For example, on my visit there were hydrangeas that are small like ground cover while others have jagged leaves like a tomato plant. Visitors can vote for their favorites. It’s exciting to think that some of these plants may never be seen by the general public. If you’re especially interested, research reports are available in the house. Copies are free to take home. With some research projects lasting several years, it gives you a new respect for this work that we all, no doubt, appreciate.

Farther from the home are gardens that are more wooded. It reminds of the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. But the national garden is sprawling, hilly and requires a car to really get around. Mt. Cuba is more nicely curated and cared for, not nearly as hilly (although there are some gentle hills) and, of course, that native plant focus.

But it isn’t just plants that are thriving at Mt. Cuba. The animals sure seem to like it there, too. During my visit I had the chance to see dozens upon dozens of migrating baby toads along the property’s pond. No bigger than a nickel, you had to walk slowly to give them the right of way, so to speak. Not far away we stumbled upon a baby painted turtle.

A flamingo garden decoration at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

The view from the house at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

A tree offshoot at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

A baby painted turtle at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

The pond at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Remembering the Value of Native Plants

As the bees and butterflies start disappearing and favorite trees continue to be taken by pests, the focus on native plants becomes that much more important. And obvious.

Whether you just want to walk through a beautiful garden or expand your knowledge of local plant varieties, Mt. Cuba Center is a special place. And a well kept secret. Well, at least for now.

Orange flowers on a bush at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Close up of two white flowers at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Close up of flowers at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

A bench under a tree at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

A bench at the end of a row of Rose of Sharon bushes at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

A wooded path at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Tips for Visiting Mt. Cuba

While Mt. Cuba Center is large, it’s easy to see all of the gardens in a couple of hours. But there’s no reason to rush. There are a lot of benches available for rest or reflection.

Unfortunately due to the nature of the region and the gardens, there were a lot of mosquitoes on our visit. I would recommend wearing long sleeves or using bug spray. In addition, be sure to remember to wear comfortable walking shoes.

Mt. Cuba also actively encourages visitors to picnic. They have a dedicated picnic area and even offer loaner blankets for use on the lawn. I think that’s a really great idea! Consider bringing a lunch. You won’t regret it!

Wilting camellia flower at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

A camellia flower at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Close up of white flowers in the field at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Close up of a white ball flower at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

A water fountain at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.

Getting There

Mt. Cuba Center is in Hockessin, Delaware, just outside of Wilmington. There is free parking available on site.

Mt. Cuba Center, 3120 Barley Mill Road, Hockessin, DE

Hidden in suburban Delaware, Mt. Cuba Center is a beautiful garden full of native plants. A guide to visiting Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware. #delaware #visitwilm #garden #travel

Thanks to Mt. Cuba Center and the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau for hosting me! All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own.

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5 thoughts on “Visiting Mt. Cuba Center Native Plant Botanical Garden

  1. This is stunning! I haven’t done a lot of Delaware but im always on the east coast so i am definitely adding it to the list. What an incredible place to spend a few hours. Thanks for the inspiration!

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