Botanical gardens has ambitious plans, great planners

Coastal Point, October 30, 2015
Susan Lyons, publisher

 On Sunday, October 18, I got to stand in the presence of greatness. No, it wasn’t Joe Flacco, Adam Levine or Hugh Jackman. I had the opportunity to meet Piet Oudolf.

I know that most of you are saying the same thing the rest of my family and friends said: “Who is Piet Oudolf?” That is exactly what I was thinking, the minute Ray Sander invited me to join some board members and other guests as Oudolf strolled through the meadow of the future Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek.

I graciously accepted the offer, knowing immediately that this was something special as he gave me a rundown of a few of Piet’s accomplishments Of course, upon hanging up the phone, I immediately Googled Piet Oudolf, and I was amazed. I was an instant fan as I gazed at the photos of meadows and gardens that he has designed throughout the world. I couldn’t put my iPad down.

I didn’t have much to say during the couple of hours that Oudolf was at the site that afternoon—partly out of respect for the videographer that was there filming, who has been working with Oudolf for the last two years and finishing up a documentary on him, but mostly because I did not feel that this novice gardener had anything of real substance to contribute.

I was just there observing, and for me it was an honor and an opportunity to see creative genius. It’s something I really admire. I am always drawn to highly creative people and appreciate their work.

While this afternoon was partly a meet-and-greet and to welcome this gentleman to our little piece of paradise, it was obvious that he wanted to get the feel of the land. He strolled through the meadow, intrigued by one of the natural grasses of the area.

An area of the gardens that had once been a field and farmed for countless years, in the near future will transform into a beautiful meadow filled with perennials and grasses. And, if all goes in our favor, that meadow will be designed by the superstar of landscape designers.

Oudolf is an artist, with the meadow as his canvas, to be filled with a carefully selected palette of flowers and grasses. I envision a sea of color and texture swaying in the breeze of a warm summer evening, transforming with every season into a new scene of dimension, color and tranquility.

I will share a quote from The Guardian newspaper, from an article written by Dan Pearson, in which where he quotes Oudolf describing his design as “a complicated layering of seasonality, energy, endurance and reward—both before, during and after flowering.” Pearson wrote, “Oudolf believes that his work has intellectual depth, which it does in that it is beautifully thought through on all these levels, but it is also about a feeling. And this is why it has touched so many people.”

Maybe that can give you a small vision of what is to come. Just think—some day we will be on the list of the famous gardens he has designed: New York, Barcelona, Chicago, Rotterdam and Dagsboro.

Not to be overshadowed in the least, the overall landscape design of the gardens is being done by Delaware’s own Rodney Robinson. He is known for the historical restoration of the Nemours Mansion Gardens, a garden at the Mt. Cuba Center and working with Carla Markell in revitalizing Woodburn, the governor’s residence, just to name a few. I had the opportunity to hear a few of his insights and visions, as well.

This was my second visit to the site, and I am getting to know Gregg Tepper, the director of horticulture for the gardens, and have been impressed with not only his knowledge but with his infectious enthusiasm.

I could not stop thinking about how fortunate I was, how fortunate all of us are to be able to observe and be a part of this wondrous endeavor, to be able to see it now in its infancy, to watch it mature and grow over each phase, to see what it will look like in five years, in 10 years, in 20 years: a place where you can forget about your worries, a place to relax in a beautiful atmosphere, a place to reflect, a place to study, a place where your daughter may someday get married. The possibilities are endless.