Big changes are coming to one of our most beloved legacy estates.
Mt. Cuba Center’s completed master plan includes a new entrance and welcome center, an expanded garden experience, a learning center and expanded plant-production facilities and garden areas. (The long-range plan, which will be realized incrementally over the course of many years, anticipates building on the organization’s strengths.) “Lammot and Pamela Copeland envisioned transforming their Mt. Cuba estate into a public garden as early as the 1960s,” says Ann Copeland Rose, president of Mt. Cuba Center. “This master plan provides a roadmap to fully realize our founders’ intention in a way that is respectful of the scenic, historic character of the local landscape.”
By evaluating opportunities to enhance Mt. Cuba’s gardens and natural landscapes in conjunction with current facilities and future needs, the master plan allows for expanded programming and greater access to natural areas while limiting the amount of new construction that will be necessary in the long term.
“We intentionally avoided specifying a time frame,” says Jeff Downing, Mt. Cuba Center’s executive director. “It might take 20 years to grow into all that the master plan envisions. It might take longer. We intend to be responsive to our organizational needs and mindful of our resources.”
The master plan also accounts for Mt. Cuba Center’s recent merger with the adjacent Red Clay Reservation, integrating the combined 1,083-acre landscape. The plan is the culmination of a 18-month design process involving Mt. Cuba Center’s board and staff, landscape architects Nelson Byrd Woltz and Beyer Blinder Belle architects. The design team found elegant solutions that will address immediate concerns including providing sufficient parking, building a new production greenhouse and improving accessibility and circulation in the gardens.
The plan also anticipates a new entrance and welcome center, an education complex and natural lands trails including accessible walkways. These projects will be realized in time, as the audience grows and logistical needs evolve. The goal is to create a guest experience that connects people with nature and facilitates the garden’s mission to inspire an appreciation for the beauty and value of native plants, and a commitment to protect the habitats that sustain them.
The master plan is also grounded in the historical context of Mt. Cuba Center, adapting and reusing original 1930s estate courtyards and buildings, preserving iconic view sheds and maintaining the intimate character of the naturalistic gardens. One key objective is to enhance and expand the guest experience. The plan anticipates some new garden areas and augments others. Guests will enjoy an array of accessible paths in and around the naturalistic gardens and new trails that explore the forests and meadows of Mt. Cuba Center’s natural areas. Another goal is to enhance the organizational sustainability and ecological value of the landscape. To that end, the plan considers opportunities to employ geothermal climate control, solar energy and stormwater capture and management. Strategic reforestation in some areas will provide greater habitat for plants and wildlife as well as carbon sequestration.
Other priorities laid out by the master plan include expanding the variety of habitats and plant communities represented in the gardens, fostering connection between guests and the natural world, facilitating interpretation that conveys the benefits of ecological gardening and expanding capacity to accommodate increasing attendance with added parking, additional paths and other features.
“Mt. Cuba Center’s audience has been growing steadily since we opened for general admission in 2013,” Downing says. “We’re looking to continue that growth in an organized, integrated way that allows us to realize the Copelands’ ambition to inspire a community of conservation.”
Over the past 70 years the gardens at Mt. Cuba Center have evolved, transforming fallow cornfields into thriving, ecologically functional landscapes, thanks to the initiative of Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland. Gardens are open for general admission Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., with hours extended to 8 p.m. on Thursdays through August. Classes are offered year-round. Find more information at mtcubacenter.org.