Delaware Botanical Gardens

by Dana Kester-McCabe

In Dagsboro, Delaware a wonderful garden project is unfolding. Actually to call it a project really does not do it justice.

Watch slideshow:

University of Delaware students and DBG Staff A view of the meadow hill form the woods. Pepper Creek One of Horticulture Director Greg Tepper's sculptural nests.

When it is done the Delaware Botanical Gardens will be a very special destination for locals and visitors alike.

A few years ago a group of garden enthusiasts realized they all had the same dream of creating just such a place in Lower Delaware. Their vision was to build a beautiful attraction that was both educational and beneficial to the local community. They began organizing, raising funds, and looking for property. They found a parcel on Pepper Creek in Sussex County which was already destined to be part of a conservation easement. They leased the land for almost no money for one hundred years. The property has a mix of meadow, woodlands, and one thousand feet of tidal water front along Pepper Creek.

I recently had the opportunity to tag along on a tour of the future gardens with a group of horticulture and landscape design students from the University of Delaware. Landscape architect Rodney Robinson showed us the sights and explained the philosophy behind their plans for the property. This was recorded on beautiful but slightly breezy day at the site. Here is Rodney Robinson.

Rodney Robinson:
"You know this is a grassroots garden from the start: people involved in a place. And, I've never really worked on a garden like that. I was even more interested because this is a lot of topography from here down to the water. It's a lot of topography for Sussex County, if you know anything about Sussex County. And, um, it's dramatic for Sussex County. And the woodland, even though it is primarily early growth successional, mature early successional plants, it gives us high shade and a beautiful soil here, that's very sandy loam. That means you can really go in and start planting."

"There were a lot of ideas about what was going to be in this botanical garden. At some point you have to pause. Any kind of planning exercise like this requires: understanding your site, the physical opportunities and constraints. Then the second thing is a program. And that is: Who do you want to be? What kind f garden do you want to be? What do you want to provide for the public? Where do you want to go? That vision thing..."

The Delaware Botanical Gardens project was recently awarded a $750,000 grant from the Longwood Gardens Foundation. This enabled them to hire Piet Oudlf an internationally renowned Dutch garden designer. Oudolf is known for developing gardens that make use of perennials and grasses to create year-round color. His most famous work was on the High Line, a greenway park created on an abandoned and elevated section of the New York Central Railroad in Manhattan. Rodney explained what Piets' gardens will add.

Rodney Robinson:
"So, you'll have the woods to the right, and you will have Oudolf's garden as a primary focus. Now his garden is all about color and texture and how that changes throughout the season. And, when you think most people are coming, they are not coming early in the morning. They're coming mid-day, later day, even into the early evening; if you have an event into the evening. The sun sets here. So the garden will be lit in its best form throughout the time of day when people will be here."

"So, all those little considerations go into how to develop the site. It's not just: "How do we make a pretty garden someplace." You've got to think strategically in your design process about how to choreograph that garden experience."

"Then the rest of the garden will in time unfold around here. You know, in the planning there's an idea of a fresh water pond garden experience, with multiple garden experiences around it. And there are a lot of other ideas of programmed gardens and what they should be like. You have to create your identity. It's very important."

Woodland trails are being developed to be ADA compliant; that is wheel chair accessible. Horticulture Director Greg Tepper has used some of the cleared sticks and branches to create huge sculptural nests that visitors can actually walk into. We here at the Delmarva Almanac hope to follow along with the progress of these creative folks at the Delaware Botanical Gardens.

Find out more:
Delware Botanical gardens -
Robinson Anderson Summers Inc.
Piet Oudlf
Longwood Gardens