Grassroots effort sets garden apart

Farm dinner raises $60,000

By Maddy Lauria
Cape Gazette, September 18, 2015

The green-minded organizers of Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek say the project is on track to welcome visitors in spring 2017.

But the gardens need continuing financial support, board member Peter Carter said Sept. 3 at the group’s second farm dinner fundraiser at Good Earth Market & Organic Farm near Bethany Beach.

“We’re very proud of the direction we’re going,” he said. “We know the garden is going to be outstanding and beautiful, but we have to get the garden first.”

The first farm dinner raised $45,000 for the multimilliondollar project, and this year’s event brought in an additional $60,000 with more than 100 attendees enjoying catered cuisine from SoDel Concepts under a lamp-lit tent on the rustic Sussex County farm.

Garden supporters also had a chance to get a glimpse at the new site plan, courtesy of more than $140,000 in pro bono planning work by Pennoni Associates Inc., with the help of renowned landscape architect Rodney Robinson, who joined the planning team earlier this year.

“It’s a garden full of transitions,” Robinson said, pointing out a new design that leaves natural woodlands nearly untouched and invites visitors to experience the natural change in flora from woods to waterfront. “There’s great variability.”

Robinson said he’s excited to see the combination of both native and exotic plants highlighted in the garden’s wood and meadow areas, as well as a planned conservatory and other features such as a rooftop cafe and island garden.

“Conceptually, it’s wonderful because it’s a blank slate,” he said. “The plan there is a concept; it’s a tool to guide development.”

While the design of the gardens may evolve as building gets underway, Robinson said, Delaware Botanic Gardens differs from other famous botanic gardens such as Longwood Gardens and Winterthur because of a grassroots approach to its design.

Most public gardens are privately owned, established by old estates and in need of a new purpose, but in the case of the gardens along Pepper Creek, Robinson said, the idea came from people who didn’t have agarden, but wanted to create one to share Sussex County’s natural beauty with locals and visitors to the area.

From high grounds and wellrooted trees to freshwater ponds and meadow gardens, the 37-acre site lends itself to becoming a public garden, he said.

“If you want to go very natural, you can do that,” he said. “We have what can become a very mature garden in a very short time.”

Before planting is underway, garden supporters need to raise about $3.8 million for the first phase of construction, which will include the entrance on Piney Neck Road, a portion of the parking lot, a temporary visitors center, a handicap-accessible walkway through the woods, the meadow gardens and a portion of the freshwater ponds. While fundraising is underway, the group also will work on the permitting process and more detailed engineering of the site.

Delaware first lady and Advisory Council Chair Carla Markell said she is thrilled to be a part of the garden’s vision and growth.

“I think it’s great for Sussex County to have such a rich cultural treasure,” she said, adding that the project wouldn’t have gained so much ground if it weren’t for the hard work and vision of the initial team members along with professional guidance from people like Robinson.

Gov. Jack Markell agreed.

“This is a great project for Sussex County, and this is going to be a great initiative for the state of Delaware,” he said at the dinner. “This is not something government makes happen, this is something the people of the community make happen.The legacy this is going to leave for future generations is going to be remarkable.”

Copyright (c)2015 Cape Gazette 09/18/2015