Delmarva’s Secret Gardens

by Dana Kester-McCabe

This week in our home and garden segment we will have a bucket list of inspiring public gardens on Delmarva that are worthy of a special day trip on their own; or at least a side trip when you are on your way to one place or another.

You might say that a gardener's job is simply to take nature's gifts and organize them according their own needs and desires. In just about every small town and city on the peninsula there are lovely public places where gardeners have done just that all for our benefit.

Most are lovingly tended to by volunteers, garden clubs, or master gardeners. This region has two or three peak blooming seasons with spring and summer being the most showy. But fall is an equally good time to visit. There is a lot a garden lover can learn from these visits. A number of the gardens have special educational events throughout the year. Some offer docent guided tours. Most importantly, they are simply beautiful peaceful places to spend time.

At the top of the peninsula are two amazing estates with formal gardens. In Wilmington is the Nemours Mansion, the home of industrialist Alfred I. Dupont. The gardens there have extravagant fountains, colonnades, a maze, and spectacular mythological sculptures of marble and gold by French Art Nouveau artist Henri Crenier

Also in Wilmington is another DuPont family estate known as Winterthur, the home of plant collector and horticulturist Henry Francis DuPont. While they also have formal gardens, this estate has a much more naturalistic approach. As its name might imply, many people make yearly visits during the winter months to see their annual Christmas display.

As we work our way down the peninsula we head west to Earleville, Maryland and the Mount Harmon Plantation. Their formal boxwood garden is complimented by rare 200-year-old English Yew trees that may be the oldest in the United States. Another rare specimen they have is a naturally growing endangered native lotus, which they celebrate with their annual Mount Harmon Lotus Blossom Art and Nature Festival. Mark your calendar now for the first Saturday in August to attend.

Continuing our Delmarva garden tour, just off Route 1 south of Dover, Delaware is the Dickinson Plantation home to one John Dickinson. He was known as the "penman" of the American Revolution for his work on the Articles of Confederation and the US Constitution. They have a small formal lawn and an authentic working colonial garden with vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

Another historic site is the Fisher-Martin Herb Garden in Zwannendael Park in Lewes. They have a colonial herb garden organized by categories such as medicinal, culinary, fragrant and flowering. They have plants that were used for other household purposes such as for dyeing fabric. And herbs used by the Native Americans from the Delaware coastal plain during the 18th century have also been represented there.

Not far from Lewes in Milton is Lavender Fields at Warrington Manor which specializes in aromatic lavender which they use in handcrafted bath and culinary products. Even after the lavender has been harvested the gardens they are lovely and they have a small peaceful meditation labyrinth.

Many of our ocean side resorts have attractive gardens to welcome visitors driving in to town. In Ocean City several neighborhoods have charming colorful gardens at the entryways to beaches with birdhouses and sculptures.

As we zigzag west again, in Ridgely, Maryland we come to the Adkins Arboretum, which we have mentioned on this show before. Besides nature trails they have a butterfly garden and an interactive Children's Funshine Garden which visiting kids can help plant and tend.

Further west in Easton is probably my favorite. The Talbot Historical Society museum has a wonderful free garden. As you pass through its gates you will feel like you are entering the Secret Garden from the classic children's book. Even when it is past it is past its peak blooming period it is a romantic shady interlude. I recommend this as a place to take your intended to propose before a celebratory meal in down town Easton.

A equally lush shady resting spot is the free garden next to the Burbage Funeral Home in downtown Berlin. There is nothing funereal about this idyllic spot. It is a nice place to take a break from shopping. And, their camellias are pretty spectacular in the Spring.

Another spot to put on your Delmarva garden list is Salisbury University and its arboretum. They have a collection of over two thousand tree species. The campus boasts eleven different garden sites, many which include sculptures.

Further down the peninsula is Ker Place in Onancock Virginia. Their herb and kitchen garden was designed as a Jeffersonian-style garden using historically accurate plants from the late 18th century.

If you like butterflies you should visit the butterfly garden at Blackwater Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland. Or mark your calendar to visit the one at the Cape Charles Virginia wildlife refuge. When conditions are right in the second week of September it is a well known stop on the fly way for Monarch butterflies headed for Mexico.

If you love gardening, visiting one of Delmarva's many public gardens will remind you what the difference is between beautiful but impersonal landscaping and a more personal creative garden.

Visit our website for links to all the places mentioned in this story. Be sure to check them for the times and days they are open. Some have entrance fees or request donations, but many are completely free.

There are a number of libraries, garden centers, and educational institutions with gardens that are also well worth your time. If we missed your favorite public garden on Delmarva, let us know. Post a recommendation on our Facebook page or email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) so we can continue to build our list.

Adkins Arboretum

Dickinson Plantation

Historic Fisher-Martin Herb Garden

Ker Place Herb and Kitchen Garden

Lavender Fields at Warrington Manor

Mount Harmon

Nemours Manision & Gardens

Salisbury University Arboretum

Talbot County Historical Society