“I want this to be a place where people will learn to appreciate our native plants and to see how these plants can enrich their lives so that they, in turn, will become conservators of our natural habitats."
Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland
Mt Cuba Center strives to build appreciation for plants of the Eastern United States with a focus on the Appalachian Piedmont through garden display, education and research programs.
The Appalachian Piedmont region includes the gently rolling hills that lie between the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States.
Mt. Cuba Center is the former home and family estate of Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland. In 1935, the Copelands built a stately Colonial Revival manor house near the village of Mt. Cuba, outside of Wilmington, Delaware. The Copelands were prominent members of the community. Mr. Copeland served as President and Chairman of the DuPont Company, while Mrs. Copeland was a leader in many community and cultural organizations.
Mr. and Mrs. Copeland shared an interest and enthusiasm for plants and gardening. Shortly after completing their house, they embarked on a mission to design and develop a series of garden spaces on their estate. The Copelands called upon well-known Philadelphia landscape architect, Thomas W. Sears, to plan the formal gardens and terraces around the house. In the 1950s, the Copelands selected noted landscape designer, Marian C. Coffin, to design the Round Garden. Later, in the 1960s, the Copelands hired landscape architect Seth Kelsey, who helped them develop the woodland wildflower gardens with native plants, design their ponds, and plan many woodland garden paths.
Throughout this time and into the 1970s, the Copelands were acutely aware of a changing land ethic. Mrs. Copeland, in particular, was increasingly concerned about wildflowers and the impact on them by development and unscrupulous practices. In 1983, Dr. Richard Lighty was hired by the Copelands as their first Director of Horticulture. The Copelands expanded their horticultural endeavors to study native plants of the Appalachian Piedmont, the beginnings of a botanic garden on a private estate.
In the late 80s, Mt. Cuba Center began hosting visitors by offering docent-led tours during the spring. Professional horticulturists, botanists, educators and landscape architects came to experience the naturalistic garden and learn about plants that some had only read about. This was one of the many steps in fulfilling the role of a botanic garden. Another step was the documentation of plant collections by staff for display and research.
In 2001, Mrs. Copeland passed away and this event ushered in a new chapter for Mt. Cuba Center. It was no longer a botanic garden on a private estate but a public garden for all to be inspired about native plants.
In 2005, the first Wildflower Celebration made its debut on the last Sunday of April. Coinciding with the height of woodland wildflower bloom time, this was a chance for visitors to stroll freely and interact with staff. Continuing education classes started in 2006 for those who wished to engage with us through topics of interest. In 2007, the tour schedule was expanded to include the fall season and many weekends. In 2011, a distance learning program called Mt. Cuba Center Connect was launched to meet the needs of the public who could not attend classes onsite. The new Trial Garden was unveiled in July of 2012, showcasing a 5000 square-foot shade structure. Our commitment to providing topnotch research information to the public was solidified with this upgrade.
Mt. Cuba Center is the collective and progressive vision of our founders, built on the experiences they gained over 65 years of living, working, and playing on the property. Mt. Cuba Center is fulfilling our founder’s intention of being a place where people learn to appreciate native plants. As a public garden, we are a mission-based organization that maintains collections of plants for the purposes of education, research, conservation and public display. We are open to the public for tours, visits and classes.
We currently have close to 50 acres under cultivation as garden areas and support buildings. Another 550 acres are managed as our Natural Lands. Our staff is comprised of 36 full-time horticulturists, educators, arborists and other professionals. Our part-time staff is currently 48 strong – helping us maintain our site and engage our visitors. Finally, we have a core group of 14 volunteers who support our professional staff in many fields of work. This community of people is invaluable to all of our endeavors.
In the past, native plants were promoted for their beauty, an ability to provide a sense of place, and the preservation of our natural heritage. Native plants were also touted as better suited to their habitat than plants from other ecosystems. We are now discovering that, to sustain our native wildlife populations in the midst of the destruction of their natural habitats, it is more critical than ever to encourage the use of native plants in the garden.
By planting native plants in our own garden, we encourage native insects, birds, reptiles, mammals and other wildlife to thrive. Should an entire neighborhood or community decide to grow native plants, an even more beneficial, continuous site can be created for these animals. We all can make a difference by starting in our own backyard.
Mt. Cuba Center is active in land conservation through the Woodlawn Project and collections conservation through the American Public Gardens Association -- North American Plant Collections Consortium.
We are in partnership with many likeminded organizations that support our mission. We have affiliations with the following organizations whether through programming or research:
Delaware Nature Society
Delaware Natural Heritage Program
Delaware Forest Service
USDA Forest Service
DNREC Fish and Wildlife
Delaware Invasive Species Council
Delmarva Ornithological Society
International Plant Propagators Society
University of Delaware’s department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, and Department of Plant and Soil Science
We look forward to inspiring people to think sustainably, act locally and to nurture our fragile natural habitats.