Delaware Botanic Gardens puts down roots with 99-year lease

A $1 lease might be the best deal that anyone will get in Sussex County. But the Delaware Botanic Gardens (DBG) is also helping to fulfill Sussex County Land Trust’s (SCLT) mission to preserve open space by leasing 37 acres near Dagsboro as part of their aim to “create a world-class, inspirational, educational and sustainable public botanic garden in Southern Delaware for the benefit and enjoyment of the public.”

The DBG this week jumped to the next stepping-stone in a years’ long process by securing a renewable 99-year lease for Delaware’s first public botanic garden.

To be located on Piney Neck Road about 1 mile east of Dagsboro, the gardens include wetlands, mature forest and 1,000 feet of waterfront on Pepper Creek, a tributary of the Indian River Bay.

“This botanic garden will become a special place that will enhance the quality of life here in Sussex County,” treasured by residents and visitors, said Dennis Forney, chair of the SCLT board. The garden “will also serve to educate all to understand the value of conservation … [and] pass on the best of our values to the next generation.”

Michael Zajic, founder and president of the DBG board, thanked the SCLT board for their vision to preserve natural land.

“My board and I are equally committed to living up to the high standards the SCLT has set and to creating a beautiful, educational, public space for all Sussex residents and for visitors from our state and from across Delmarva.” Zajic said.

Groundbreaking on the gardens is planned for the early fall of 2014, with a public opening targeted for June 20, 2016, (timed to the summer solstice). The first phase of garden development will include a canal with freshwater plants, woodland gardens, wetlands walkways and temporary buildings for teaching and events.

In 10 years and three phases, the entire 37 acres should be fully blooming, with room to grow hundreds of thousands of plants.

Right now, the next step is operation “Open the Garden Gates.” The $7 million fundraising campaign offers naming opportunities and more. People can also volunteer their time to the effort.

The gardens board has also received $100,000 worth of professional engineering, design and legal pro bono service contributions from Delaware companies, as well as support from local, state and federal officials.

Zajic said he especially thanked “the management and engineering expertise of Mark Davidson and the entire Pennoni organization” and “great legal work of Heidi Gilmore of Baird Mandalas Brockstedt LLC and Jim Fuqua of Fuqua, Yori & Willard PA.”

The Southern Delaware Botanic Gardens Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Donations may be sent online via or to Southern Delaware Botanic Gardens (SDBG), P.O. Box 176, Nassau, DE 19969. Learn more online at