Botanic gardens deserve full council support

Editorial, Cape Gazette | September 20, 2013

A dedicated group of Sussex County residents, led by horticulture professional Mike Zajic, has brought forward a bold plan for a botanical garden on a beautifully situated piece of land along Pepper Creek near Dagsboro. The property was purchased many years ago by Sussex County Land Trust with Sussex County funds dedicated to open space protection.

The Southern Delaware Botanic Gardens concept fits the land trust’s mission, of protecting open space and providing related education. Plans feature planting thousands of trees, shrubs and flowers as well as building facilities and trails where people could learn about the natural and cultivated setting and develop a greater appreciation for the outdoors and the miracle of gardens great and small.

While this botanical garden plan would educate and entertain, it would also provide a significant economic boost to the critical Sussex County tourism industry. Botanical gardens like the one proposed - in the mold of Longwood Gardens just over the state line in Pennsylvania and Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina - draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and millions of dollars to their respective economies. They bring those visitors and dollars year round.

Not surprisingly, two public hearings to date have brought out only support. Gardening ranks as one of the top pastimes for Americans, so people see nothing but positive from this proposal. Delaware Department of Transportation traffic reviews see no problem with Piney Neck Road’s ability to handle traffic the gardens would attract.

Situated as it is at the center of the temperate zone which serves so optimally for a wide variety of plant growth, Sussex County offers a naturally advantageous location for a botanic garden that would attract visitors and tourists and further add to the quality of life for those of us who live here.

Sussex County Planning and Zoning members gave a unanimous recommendation of approval for the conditional use sought for the gardens. It deserves nothing less from Sussex County Council, and the sooner the better so this great opportunity can move forward toward raising funds and getting its first phase open by 2016.