Delaware Botanic Gardens plants itself in Sussex County

Dover Post | July 10, 2014

By Maddy Lauria
It will take a few years to get the gardens blooming, but a newly signed lease virtually guarantees that the long-planned Delaware Botanic Gardens will be making a home in Sussex County.

The botanic gardens’ board of directors and the Sussex County Land Trust signed a 99-year-lease late last month that formally secures a property east of Dagsboro as the future site of the nature-based attraction.

“The lease was an important and historic milestone for us to achieve this year,” Delaware Botanic Gardens spokesman Ray Sander said. “It’s wooded, with a beautiful slope, wetlands and waterfront. It was unbelievable when the board found this. It has so many features that you
wouldn’t expect to find on one site in Sussex County.”

The planned location of the gardens is off Piney Neck Road, on a 37.5-acre property that has been in the Sussex County Land Trust (SCLT) program for about a decade, Sander said. Michael Zajic, a founder and president of the Delaware Botanic Gardens’ board, said the project would not have been solidified without the lease agreement.

“My board and I are equally committed to living up to the high standards the SCLT has set and to creating a beautiful, educational, public space for all Sussex residents and for visitors from our state and from across Delmarva,” he said in a press release. “Now that we have taken the first step in making this dream a reality, we must begin the task of raising the funds needed to build this vision of accessible and sustainable recreational open space.”

After Delaware Botanic Gardens obtained nonprofit status nearly two years ago, the project’s board of directors looked at about a dozen different locations throughout the state – mainly in Sussex County – before finding the perfect fit with the help of the Sussex County Land Trust. For $1 a year, the future gardens will blossom on a tract that features flat land previously used farmland, mature woodlands, wetlands and 1,000 feet of waterfront along Pepper Creek.

Sander said he now expects a groundbreaking to take place in early spring of 2015, with the goal of opening the garden gates for the June summer solstice in 2016. The entire project will still be a work in progress, but Sander said he expects the first phase – completion of the woodland gardens – to be open and ready for visitors by then.

“[The woodland gardens] have a fantastic palate of colors and mature trees, and we’ll be putting in flowers and other attractions,” he said. “We will start [working on that] as early as this spring, possibly in the fall. We’ll start clearing the invasives, laying out trails and pathways along natural contours of land so people can walk along.”