Delaware is renowned for its picturesque beaches — our scenic waters have motivated thousands of retirees to move to our area over the last decade. The second smallest state will soon be known for something perhaps even more beautiful, an attraction that will also draw visitors to Sussex County. A determined group of Delawareans plan to open the Delaware Botanic Gardens or DBG at Pepper Creek to the public in 2019 — it will be the first of its kind in the First State.
Planting is already underway at the 37-acre property situated on Pepper Creek just outside of Dagsboro. Famed garden designer Piet Oudolf meticulously planned the two-acre meadow garden that is currently blooming with thousands of plants. Eighty-five percent of the plants in the meadow garden are native, meaning visitors will be greeted by scores of butterflies and other pollinators once they are able to walk through the breathtaking garden. Eventually, 70,000 plants will welcome the public to the meadow garden.
“I am just stunned. I’m astonished at how beautifully this has turned out. This is our give-back project and we want everyone to enjoy the beauty of this place,” said DBG Executive Director Sheryl Swed.
The quick transformation of the property has been nothing less than extraordinary. Just a few years ago, the now-lush meadow was planted with soybeans. Organizers knew when they first toured the property that the area was special. With both freshwater pools and 1,000 feet of tidal waterfront, the property is unique. According to DBG President Ray Sander, “There are really many different environments that make this property a very special one.”
Twelve acres of the property encompass what’s called the woodland garden. Trails have been cleared and stone walls will guide visitors to the waterfront on Pepper Creek. The folly garden is being created inside what’s left of the foundation of an early-20th-century farmhouse. Thousands of donated spring bulbs have been planted at the site, along with many other perennials. The soil in the folly garden had to be carefully sieved to remove pieces of glass and nails to allow planting to safely move forward.
Delaware Botanic Gardens also houses a new wetlands outdoor classroom. The classroom has been sponsored by Dogfish Head Brewery and Distillery and will allow students to study water quality, vegetation and aquatic species.
“The outdoor classroom brings alive our mission to create an inspirational and educational garden for the enjoyment of the public,” said Sander.
The Garden could eventually draw 200,000 visitors to Dagsboro every year, pumping tens of millions of dollars into Delaware’s economy. The planning and planting of DBG has been a true community effort. The organization boasts more than 200 volunteers and businesses across the state that have donated time and money to transform the former farm field into a horticultural paradise.
After a soft opening in 2019, the garden will be expanded to include a visitor’s center, a cascade garden with stacked terraces of plants and water, an amphitheater and many other features over the next decade designed to make the 37-acre garden a first-class tourist destination. For those who worked to turn the idea of a public garden into a reality, seeing the colorful meadow is rewarding. According to volunteer Brent Baker, “This is a project where a few people thought up some big ideas and it’s coming to life.”
To learn more about Delaware Botanic Gardens or to make a donation to the organization, please visit
Check out the video below to see the progress of the Delaware Botanic Gardens so far.