Downingtown festival cultivates diverse tastes

36th annual event features plants, antiques, music, food, history, and more

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor,  The Times

Downingtown horticulturalist David L. Culp will add his expertise to the plant sale at the 36th Annual Downingtown Friends Fall Festival.

When an urban high school principal thanked a longtime Longwood Gardens educator for a class that fostered empowerment to “change the world one garden at a time,” the gratitude resonated.

The reason? Downingtown horticulturalist David L. Culp knew he had successfully transferred his enthusiasm to his adult student, reinforcing Culp’s passion for making a positive impact through plants. “When I hear something wonderful like that, it keeps me going,”  Culp said in a recent interview.

Not surprisingly, his energy for beautifying his surroundings has cultivated many repeat visitors to the Downingtown Friends Fall Festival, where Culp orchestrates the plant sale.  Now in its 36th year, the free festival will be held Oct. 13 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the historic grounds of Downingtown Friends Meeting on East Lancaster Avenue.

An 1806 Quaker wedding reenactment will be one of the attractions at the 36th Annual Downingtown Friends Fall Festival on Oct. 13.

Diehard plant aficionados have learned to mark their calendars and arrive early because Culp eschews a garden-variety selection. He said some visitors have reported traveling from as far as Maryland and New Jersey for the sale. “I’ve been collecting for several months,” he said, promising some unusual peonies, Chinese clivia, and what sounds like an oxymoron: hardy orchids.

Culp, whose 1790s farmhouse property, Brandywine Cottage, is a garden-tour favorite,  espouses a  multi-textured, naturalistic landscape, an approach that he has shared in numerous publications such as Horticulture, Colonial Home and Fine Gardening.

This year, he has a new offering for festivalgoers: his first book. As long as the initial shipment arrives in time, he said he plans to sign copies of “The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage.”

If you’ve never met a plant you couldn’t destroy, the festival will have myriad  alternatives,  all with a backdrop of culinary offerings and live music. “The Friends Mercantile” will attract treasure-hunters with an assortment of new and gently used items, books, and antiques. Bargains will also abound in a silent auction.

For children, activities will include pumpkin-decorating, face-painting, spin art, crafts, and games, such as mini-golf.  History buffs will want to tour the meeting house to see an exhibit of antique Quaker clothing and memorabilia. At  1:30 p.m., reenactors will recreate the first wedding held at the meeting house in 1806; photos with the wedding party will be welcomed.

Downingtown Friends Meeting is located at 800 E. Lancaster Ave., just west of Wegman’s, with ample free parking. For more information, visit


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