Painters start each project with a bare canvas — an empty space full of possibilities. Through inspiration, the canvas is transformed into something unique, a creation that embodies the imagination and ingenuity of the painter. While the organizers behind the Delaware Botanic Gardens (DBG) in Sussex County may not consider themselves artists, they have established a horticultural masterpiece near Dagsboro that will leave visitors in awe.
The property, along Piney Neck Road, used to be full of soybeans. For DBG President Ray Sander, the field was an empty canvas that had the potential to be so much more. “To see this area go from a soybean field to a beautiful garden is just remarkable,” he said. Volunteers and organizers have spent years planning, designing, fundraising and planting tens of thousands of trees and plants on the 37-acre property.
The soybeans have been replaced by colorful yarrow, allium, amsonia, false indigo, coneflowers, phlox and numerous other pollinator-friendly flowers and native grasses.
World-renowned designer Piet Oudolf is the Claude Monet of the garden world and has created stunning gardens in Canada, England, the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany and many other countries across the globe. Oudolf designed the 2-acre meadow garden at DBG, the centerpiece of the property. “He’s worked in London, Barcelona, Chicago, New York and now Dagsboro. He loves it because it’s a community garden with a lot of people coming together to work for a common good,” said Sander.
The DBG will officially open to the public on Monday, Sept. 16. Visitors will enter the gardens through a new welcome center, a 600-square-foot cedar replica of a rustic potting shed. As they enter the center, they’ll get a first glimpse at the tapestry of colors awaiting them in the meadow garden. The meadow is comprised of 70,000 plants that were installed in three phases over the past two years. “It’s a dream come true and it’s taken a lot of effort by a lot of volunteers and a lot of great companies. We’re hopeful that everyone who comes here will want to come back six weeks later to see what else is growing. That’s the attraction of a live garden,” said DBG Executive Director Sheryl Swed.
South of the meadow garden is the woodland garden where guests can enjoy a peaceful, roughly 1-mile hike along paths bordering the banks of Pepper Creek. Native ferns will greet hikers as they pass along the tranquil tributary of the Indian River. The Dogfish Head outdoor classroom is already being used to educate students and the general public about aquatic plant species.
Delaware Botanic Gardens can best be described as an incredible collaboration. The opening is the culmination of years of dedication and is the result of the generous support of countless individuals and businesses.
DBG has raised more than $3 million and some of the funding came from individuals who are volunteers at the site full-time. “My heart and soul is in this property,” said DBG Board Vice President Carol McCloud. In memory of her husband John, McCloud provided the funding for the folly garden, built around the foundation of an 18th-century farmhouse. McCloud spends anywhere from 50 to 60 hours a week working in the gardens and said it’s a labor of love for her. “I feel like it’s Christmas morning every day. It fills my heart and fills my soul every time I walk on the property. I get excited about
a new day.”
Even those living outside of the First State have been eager to contribute to the efforts of McCloud and so many others. Girl Scout Troop 20566 based in York, Pennsylvania, raised thousands of dollars to plant a special garden at DBG. The Girl Scouts not only raised the money to plant 500 plants and four redbud trees, but they also spent an entire day planting the garden.
According to Troop Leader Wendy Brister, “We had been working on this project since March, raising money by selling native plants and we had garden learning meetings. Our emphasis was teaching the importance of pollinators in the garden.” Girl Scout Catarina Brigham added, “This is such a beautiful and calming place, I really like the gardens.”
For the organizers of the DBG, this is just the start of an ongoing adventure. The attraction will eventually be expanded to include a discovery garden, a bald cypress garden, a bird-viewing platform near Pepper Creek and a cascade garden with multi-level terraces of water and plants. The future is bright for DBG and the volunteers can’t wait to show off their 37 acres of paradise to the public in September.
Learn more about visiting DBG at www.delawaregardens.org.