Delaware Botanic Gardens eyes eco-friendly construction

By Maddy Lauria | Jun 01, 2016 | Cape Gazette

At a recent board meeting, experts behind the project unveiled a conceptual plan for the garden, which includes a specially designed parking lot with a stormwater-fed garden leading visitors to meadow trails and woodland paths.

Ted Flato of Texas-based Lake Flato Architects Inc., said the project will bring together three ecosystems – shaded woodlands, a sunny meadow and waterways.

“So really, just two steps and a turn to the right and you're in another world,” Flato said. “It is an amazing piece of land, and this is really a great use of the land.”

Guests approaching the visitor center from the parking area will walk along a "rhyne" that collects rainwater and get glimpses of some of the garden's many plantings.

Guests approaching the visitor center from the parking area will walk along a "rhyne" that collects rainwater and get glimpses of some of the garden's many plantings.

The gardens on a 37-acre waterfront parcel on Piney Neck Road near Dagsboro will be designed in part by world-renowned Dutch author and horticulturist Piet Oudolf, who also worked on Battery Park and the High Line in New York City, among dozens of other notable projects, and landscape architect Rodney Robinson of Lewes and Wilmington, known for his work on the U.S. Botanic Garden, Hockessin's Mount Cuba Center and others.

“This is a garden, not a nature center, so let's make it more like a garden. That's the direction we're pushing in,” Robinson said. “Let's not just take everything for granted and just make a parking lot and get everybody out of there. Let's do a parking lot that's beautiful and maybe a little different. Let's do a bioswale that's beautiful and different.”

The first phase of the project is slated for groundbreaking in 2017 and a grand opening in 2018. Future phases will include about 2,200 square feet of green buildings for offices, tickets, meeting space and a connected open-air pavilion that reaches into the woodlands.

Delaware Botanic Gardens board members are seeking LEED certification for the buildings, which recognizes energy-efficient construction, but Flato and his colleague Margaret Sledge suggested board members take plans a step further by thinking about constructing living buildings, which would be completely self-sustaining in regards to water and energy use.

The open-air woodland pavilion, linked to the visitor center all under one roof, projects into part of the garden's 12.5-acre native forest.

The open-air woodland pavilion, linked to the visitor center all under one roof, projects into part of the garden's 12.5-acre native forest.

Board members, engineers and designers still have to hash out details of construction, cost, develop a master site plan and obtain permits, but the renderings revealed at the May 23 meeting show a groundbreaking attraction for southern Delaware that also could demonstrate ways to protect the environment during construction, Flato said.

“An important aspect of a building like this is the land is actually telling a story about doing it right, that you're not only doing things in a smart environmental way, but you're also doing it in a sustainable way and an economical way,” Flato said.

Delaware Botanic Gardens is always looking for new members to pledge financial support and volunteers to help prepare the site, recruit new members and lend a hand with clerical or administrative duties. For more information, to donate or volunteer, go to www.delawaregardens.org.