Delaware Botanic Gardens officially opens on Monday

After years of hard work, the moment has finally arrived: The Delaware Botanic Gardens will officially open to the public this week, with regular hours beginning on Monday, Sept. 16.

It’s a moving experience, said volunteer Jane Peters, who first saw the garden this summer, when the meadow was in full bloom.

“All the colors, and the wind was blowing… It was just lovely. It was like a moving Monet painting to me. … This is very much a Delaware garden,” Peters said. “It’s just wonderful.”

The 37-acre property is located at 30220 Piney Neck Road, about 1.5 miles from Main Street in Dagsboro.

The mission of the nonprofit DBG is to create an inspirational, educational and sustainable public garden in Delaware for the benefit and enjoyment of all. 

“It goes back to 2012, when some of the folks here in Sussex County said, ‘You know, why can’t we have a botanic garden on the shore [with] the native plants of Delaware and Delmarva? Why do we have to drive two hours up to Longwood Gardens?’” said Board Member Brent Baker. “I love Longwood Gardens, but why can’t we have a local setting within 20 minutes of the shore?”

With that vision, the nonprofit garden has garnered millions of dollars in public and private support; free or discounted professional services; 37,000 volunteer hours; and an interested public.

As with most major endeavors, there have been delays, and the grand opening has been pushed back several times over the past three years.

 

Welcome to the garden

 

This is just Phase 1 of the overall plan for the facility, which will eventually include more ponds, demonstration gardens and a special-events site.

Among the ponds, flowers and trees, visitors will also find many elements celebrating classic Delmarva: farmhouse ruins, native plants and old geologic features, such as inland dunes and freshwater wetlands.

Major sites within the DBG include the Woodland Garden; Dogfish Head Learning Classroom & Wetland; the 2-acre Piet Oudolf Meadow Garden, designed by a worldwide “rockstar” of the gardening world; and the Charles R. Anderson Holly Collection from Owings Mills, Md.

The creators got creative, too, sculpting excess tree limbs into massive “bird nests” that people can walk around. Benches are made from fallen logs or recycled plastic bottles. Coming soon, a “living shorelines” project will create a natural buffer against erosion along the 1,000-foot creek shoreline.

The terrain and mild elevation makes for an interesting walk from Pepper Creek to the charming Folly Garden, built among farmhouse ruins.

More than 1.3 miles of trails (much of it ADA-accessible) lead to many photo-worthy spots.

“This is a walking garden. It’s to be enjoyed,” Baker said.

Visitors, he said, should allow themselves at least an hour to visit and enjoy the grounds. Baker suggests that first-time visitors invest in a guided tour. (Tours are available on a regular basis, although the discount grand-opening tours have already sold out.)

“You come in, you hear the birds, you see the butterflies, you get to walk through the woods, and it’s a nice getaway,” said Karen Dudley, a longtime volunteer through the Barefoot Gardeners.

It’s also being touted as an interesting diversion for vacationers after three days on the beach.

“Young people — it will give them a whole different perspective,” said volunteer Jane Peters.

Most of the garden is set back from the road, so “You’re immersed in nature,” said Baker. “The troubles of the world are gone, and you can go back to your youth when you used to marvel at plants and trees…”

Workers have also encountered eagles, lizards and dragonflies, which “tells me this is a healthy, living garden,” Baker said.

 

Nothing without the volunteers

 

What was once a “blank slate” of a soybean field has been transformed into a strong and diverse ecology, said Brian W. Trader, the new DBG deputy executive director and director of horticulture. Coming from Longwood Gardens, Trader said he was impressed by what the DBG has built, thanks to volunteers, businesses, foundations and environmental agencies.

“We would be nothing without the volunteers,” said Baker.

“Aww!” responded a lady who was weeding nearby.

“This is a community garden maintained by volunteers from the area,” but not just Delawareans. There are only a few full-time employees, Baker said.

Volunteers can register online to help at their convenience, in aspects ranging from garden maintenance to office work, IT and grant writing.

 

Planning a visit

 

Delaware Botanic Gardens is located at 30220 Piney Neck Road, Dagsboro. The grand opening schedule is:

• Thursday, Sept. 12 — ticketed celebration dinner;

• Monday to Wednesday, Sept. 16 to 18 — garden open 9 a.m. to noon;

• Thursday, Sept. 19 — garden open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Ribbon-cutting at 1 p.m.

Starting Wednesday, Sept. 25, the garden will be open regularly, Wednesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon.

Ticket prices are: free for DBG members, $15 for adults; $12 for seniors 65 or older, $10 for children ages 6 to 17, and free for children 5 or younger.

Memberships can be purchased online.

“Come and enjoy!” said Dudley. “It’s a small amount of money for a large amount of enjoyment.”

The Welcome Center will sell tickets, as well as local plants, bug repellent, water and snacks. No outside food or drink is permitted in the garden. Water bottles are allowed. No picnicking, bicycles, jogging, smoking, vaping or pets are permitted. Service animals are permitted when assisting with a specific disability. Golf-cart tours will be available to those who need them.

Until Sussex County sewer lines are installed, guests will use portable bathrooms.

Guests are being encouraged to dress for the elements — consider comfortable shoes, sunscreen, long sleeves and bug repellent (“This is a natural area,” Baker said.).

Donations or correspondence can be mailed to Delaware Botanic Gardens; P.O. Box 1390; Ocean View, DE 19970. Phone calls can be made to (302) 321-9061.

Delaware Botanic Gardens is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Details about visits, volunteering or donations are online at www.delawaregardens.org.

 

By Laura Walter

Staff Reporter