Sunday, October 20, 2019

A New Wave of Delaware Gardens

Delaware Botanic Gardens
Meadow garden at the newly opened Delaware Botanic Gardens

In October 2015, I was privileged to tour the future site of the Delaware Botanic Gardens (DBG) in Dagsboro, Delaware with then-Director of Horticulture Gregg Tepper and several board members. The big news, aside from the recently acquired site itself, was that world-famous garden designer Piet Oudolf had just signed on to design their meadow garden. I wrote about this exciting development in an exciting project for my blog in Big News in Southern Delaware. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to revisit that project, and came away exhilarated and energized.

Delaware Botanic Gardens

Delaware Botanic Gardens
The meadow, then and now: October 2015 (top) and October 2019 (bottom)

In 2015, the opening of the DBG seemed a distant dream and there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then! For a variety of reasons, I stopped blogging in 2016. Part of it was burnout, part of it was depression after the death of our beloved kitty Isabella, followed shortly by several family health crises and the deaths of family members. Part of it was simply getting busy with other projects. But throughout all these life complications, one constant has been my passion for plants and gardening. It was personally gratifying and a real thrill to finally visit the newly opened DBG with a group of fellow gardeners.

It was a brisk and breezy autumn day for my first visit since 2015. I was there with fellow members of Garden Communicators International (GardenComm) for a day-long tour of southern Delaware gardens, with the DBG being the centerpiece and the highlight of our day. We were personally welcomed by president Ray Sander and executive director Sheryl Swed, who have spearheaded this project through the last several years.

Delaware Botanic Gardens
President Raymond Sander and Executive Director Sheryl Swed greet GardenComm to the newly opened Delaware Botanic Gardens

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Director of Horticulture Brian Trader (photo courtesy of Kathy Jentz, Washington Gardener Magazine)

Our tour began in the crown jewel of the garden, the Piet Oudolf meadow. We were led by new Director of Horticulture Brian Trader (Gregg Tepper having taken another job earlier this year). Brian is one of only two full-time staff members, making the progress all the more amazing considering it has been done almost entirely with volunteer work. Designing the meadow is one thing; it's quite another to imagine the back-breaking labor that went into this project. But oh the results! To say this was a dream come true is an understatement. The grasses, waving in the breeze as they caught the morning sun, and in particular the ethereal pink clouds of Muhlenbergia capillaris, gave a dreamy quality to the layers of texture and color that Oudolf had woven into the meadow.

Delaware Botanic Gardens
"Pink muhly grass", Muhlenbergia capillaris

We were also fortunate to have landscape architect Karen Steenhoudt join our tour to talk about the inland dunes garden, and the effects of rising sea levels on the creekside wetlands and woods, two projects she worked on for her degree at Temple University. Many, many other people have been involved in the development of the gardens and for a great behind-the-scenes look, see Tony Spencer's The Red Trowel: A Journey with Piet Oudolf & Friends on his New Perennialist blog. For a local news article about the grand opening of the gardens, see the Cape Gazette's Delaware Botanic Gardens cuts ribbon.
 Delaware Botanic Gardens

Delaware Botanic Gardens

Delaware Botanic Gardens

Delaware Botanic Gardens

When I wrote about the Delaware Botanic Gardens in 2015, I never imagined that they would be part of a growing wave of horticulture in southern Delaware. We visited several other gardens that day, both public and private, but for now I'll have to give short shrift to them. I was afraid the various gardens would be well past their prime in October; I was pleased to be proven so wonderfully wrong, and our hosts treated us like visiting royalty!

The biggest surprise of the day was our tour of Baywood Greens. This community is so much more than the golf course its name might suggest. I was a bit dubious as we loaded onto golf carts for our tour, but around every turn we were treated to something new and marvelous. I had no idea the gardens were so extensive or so lavishly planted. Senior horticulturist Joya Parsons and her crew do a simply amazing job of maintaining the grounds with perfect landscaping and drop-dead gorgeous gardens. The grounds are open to the public and the clubhouse has an excellent restaurant, so if you're heading to the DBG for a visit, you won't regret stopping at Baywood as well.

Baywood Greens Gardens tour

Baywood Greens gardens tour

Baywood Greens gardens tour

Baywood Greens Gardens tour

We spent the afternoon touring two beautiful private gardens. Former executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden Holly Shimizu and her husband, landscape designer Osamu Shimizu, have created lush, densely packed gardens in the tiny lot around their historic home in Lewes, DE. And Mike and Buffy Zajic were absolutely lovely hosts at their Mill Pond Garden, also in Lewes. In between gardens we had a delicious lunch at Good Earth Market and Organic Farm, where we were warmly greeted by owner Sue Ryan, and a brief shopping trip at Inland Bays Garden Center, where owners Cheryl Rehrig and Denise Hoeksema talked about operating a small business whose specialty is native plants.

Shimizu garden
Shimizu garden, Lewes, Delaware

Mill Pond Garden
Mill Pond Garden, Lewes, Delaware

Mill Pond Garden
Mill Pond Garden, Lewes, Delaware

Good Earth Market and Organic Farm
Outdoor lunch at Good Earth Market and Organic Farm

Inland Bays Garden Center
Owners Cheryl and Denise talk about Inland Bays Garden Center

I cannot thank all of our hosts enough for the hospitality they provided. The day was a long and tiring one, but a joy from start to finish. Best of all, I spent it in the company of friends who share my passion for plants and gardening.

GardenComm members in a "nest" at Delaware Botanic Gardens (photo courtesy of Kathy Jentz, Washington Gardener Magazine)

For more photos from our tour of southern Delaware gardens, please visit my Flickr photo album.

To support the Delaware Botanic Gardens with a donation or membership, please visit their website at http://delawaregardens.org

Mill Pond Garden

4 comments :

  1. I enjoyed the virtual visit to these gardens John. The story of the development of the Delaware Botanic Gardens with the before and after pictures is amazing, and the "Pink muhly grass", Muhlenbergia capillaris is exceptionally beautiful. Baywood Greens looks wonderful as well. Thank you so much for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  2. OK. Another garden to put on the list to visit in Delaware.
    Ray

    ReplyDelete
  3. This was a wonderful virtual visit, John!
    S. Blackwell

    ReplyDelete
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