Our mission is to create a world-class, inspirational, educational, and sustainable public botanic garden in southern Delaware for the benefit and
enjoyment of all.

Our vision is for beautiful, engaging,  gardens that inspire and educate.

 We are a dream . . .
growing day by day
in colors of green.

Our values encompass inspirational gardens, environmental stewardship,  community focus, education and research, organizational transparency, financial responsibility, and civility and respect.

In the past several months, a bevy of studies have added to a growing literature on the mental and physical benefits of spending time outdoors. That includes recent research showing that short micro-breaks spent looking at a nature scene have a rejuvenating effect on the brain—boosting levels of attention—and also that kids who attend schools featuring more greenery fare better on cognitive tests.
— "New Research Suggests Nature Walks Are Good for Your Brain," Chris Mooney, Washington Post | June 29, 2015


With all the amenities the Delmarva peninsula includes—from its inspiring bay views in the west to the relaxing beach atmosphere in the east, from the Piedmont region in the north to our cypress swamps in the south—what is missing is something that brings all of them together: a flagship botanic garden. For many people here, a trip to a botanic garden involves extensive planning and travel time, with the closest gardens several or more hours away in any direction.

What exactly is a botanic garden? It is one that lends itself to educational and informational opportunities as well as beauty and tranquility. All plants in the garden are identified by their scientific and common names, and additional information on the plants’ culture or characteristics may be given as well. Such a garden can include a number of facilities, including a visitor center with a restaurant, a conservatory, multiple greenhouses, and other buildings where classes and lectures can be provided to the public.

In early 2012, a group of energetic and garden-loving men and women came together under the leadership of Michael Zajic, former horticultural supervisor of Brookside Gardens in Maryland, to fill an unmet local need for horticulture education and gardening resources. With his vision as guide and inspiration, they have launched a center for botanic expertise and education in an inspirational waterfront setting here in Delmarva.

This group formed Southern Delaware Botanic Gardens, Inc., now known as the Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its skilled Board of Directors includes a diversified group of individuals from across Delmarva, bringing with them the experience, knowledge, and most important, the passion that will bring this endeavor to fruition.

What we have been able to accomplish is due to the strength of our vision, the creativeness of our site plan, the determination of our board, the strong support of our members and supporters, and the generosity of the Sussex County Land Trust and key business partners.

The Sussex County Land Trust's site on Pepper Creek, preserved as open space, has been leased to the Delaware Botanic Gardens for $1 a year for the next 99 years (a renewable term). This mutually beneficial arrangement reflects a remarkable partnership between two nonprofit organizations with compatible missions. The public will benefit richly by having access to the natural beauty of this topographically significant site along an estuary of one of Delaware's Inland Bays.


The Delaware Botanic Gardens has embarked on a ten-year, multi-phase plan to establish a flagship botanic garden for southern Delmarva. The garden will manifest the values motivating all garden lovers everywhere—from the magnificence of nature to the role of horticulture in learning, enjoyment, and health.

Situated on thirty-seven acres along Pepper Creek, which flows into Indian River Bay, the garden will maintain a year-round living habitat to demonstrate the vital impact of plants on the lives of our region’s citizens and their environment. This significant site, valued at $1.3 million, is located on the gently rolling, verdant, sandy coastal plain. A rare hill with an existing twelve-acre hardwood forest slopes down to a wetland marsh and more than 1,000 feet of waterfront along the broad, navigable tidal creek.

Building a large public garden must be done in stages, which will take about a decade or so to realize. The Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek aims to be self-supporting, although it will depend heavily on generous help from donors in its early years, as do all other public gardens. Income will be provided by membership dues, admission fees, gift shop and online sales, event rentals, special show admissions, donations, and other forms of revenue. An endowment fund has been set up to build for the future.

This venture will also expand tourism in Sussex County by offering a world-class garden open to the public all year long. The garden will be within a ninety-minute drive of Delmarva’s growing year-round population. Its location will draw tourists to the center of Sussex County, an area that has been identified as in need of economic stimulus. The garden will contribute annually to the tax base of the county through direct and indirect economic activity.

Working together, we can create a unique, sustainable, inspirational, and accessible garden for public benefit and pleasure. It will exalt nature’s beauty, delight and educate visitors, and study and preserve the natural ecosystems of Sussex County and Delmarva. 

Our Open the Garden Gates campaign will enable the Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek to plant the Woodland Gardens and build water features, the wetlands walkways, and temporary structures for events, teaching, plant propagation, and visitor amenities—which will allow us to begin welcoming the first visitors in the next few years.

The Garden

  • is an environmentally sustainable habitat that is a place of tranquility, beauty, and education for everyone

  • is an exceptional coastal plain environment for teaching and learning about nature

  • uses a holistic approach to the study of nature

  • creates a greater awareness of native Delaware ecosystems

  • enhances Delaware life and benefits Delaware’s economy

  • emphasizes learning through enjoyment and active involvement with nature

  • accentuates learning about nature from natural beauty and by storytelling

  • serves as a resource for local farmers, gardeners, and homeowners

  • maintains a living classroom as an on-site learning environment

  • combines science and art in living laboratories

  • brings local, county, and state officials together around the issues of natural resources, climate change, and the impact of humankind on nature.

Above: The garden site extends from farmland along Piney Neck Road down to Pepper Creek. Photographs by Sheryl Swed.



The Delaware Botanic Gardens is founded and granted 501(c)(3) status.


Pennoni Associates Inc. is appointed project engineer of record.

The Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission and County Council approve the property’s conditional use and site plan.

DBG receives its first private foundation grant, followed by two from the Crestlea Foundation.

Pro bono engineering, design, and legal contributions are given by leading companies in Delaware, along with support from elected officials from Dagsboro, Sussex County, state executive and legislative branches, and the state’s elected federal representatives.


The DBG Advisory Council is formed, and First Lady Carla Markell becomes chair and Sheryl Swed becomes Executive Director.

The Sussex County Land Trust offers a renewable 99-year-lease for the site at $1 a year.

Yorkston Consulting is hired to assist in development efforts.

Rockport Analytics completes an economic impact analysis, underwritten by Delaware’s Office of Economic Development and its Department of Agriculture.


Susan Ryan succeeds to the DBG presidency with the retirement of founding president Michael Zajic, and new members are added to the Board of Directors and the Advisory Council

Another Farm Dinner fundraiser on September 3 is sold out.

Fundraising successes this year included $915,000 in grants from foundations and $168,000 in funds from Sussex County legislators, plus tens of thousands of dollars from other donors.


A "dream team" of renowned design professionals is assembled to develop the garden's master plan. They include the award-winning architecture firm Lake/Flato, the internationally recognized meadow designer Piet Oudolf, and the noted Delaware designer Rodney Robinson of RAS Landscape Architects of Wilmington. Several design charrettes take place this year to finalize the plan.

Fundraising to match a Longwood Foundation grant on a two-to-one basis brings results in record time, with contributions in the summer and fall putting the campaign over the top.

New members are added to increase the strength of the DBG Board of Directors and the Advisory Council.

This year's Farm Dinner is sold out once again, with dozens of sponsors signing up to help Open the Garden Gates.


Ray Sander succeeds to the DBG presidency with the retirement of Susan Ryan, and new members are added to the Board of Directors and the Advisory Council.

Another Farm Dinner fundraiser on September 3 is sold out, raising over $100,000.

Fundraising successes this year $915,000 in foundation grants led by including a $750,000 grant for the Longwood Foundation and $168,000 in funds from Sussex County legislators, plus tens of thousands of dollars from other donors.


In 2018, we successfully secured a $5000 grant from the Delaware Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program for the purchase of 270 “street” trees that front the DBG site.  We also conducted our first online fundraising campaign through GoFundMe, successfully raising over $18,000.  In addition, in 2018 we have been able to connect the site to the electrical grid through an in-kind donation valued at $70,000 from the Delaware Electric Cooperative and a $42,000 in-kind donation from Nickle Electric.

In 2018, DBG was awarded over $570,000 from the Crystal Trust, the Welfare Foundation, the Rosa and Ellice McDonald Foundation, the Crestlea Foundation, the Marmot Foundation, the Delaware Community Foundation and the Stanley Smith Foundation.

This year’s September 6 Farm Dinner successfully raised over $100,000 and was, for the first time, held at the gardens.

The continued donation leadership of individual Board members has underwritten the completion of the Welcome Center, the Folly Garden Naming Rights and the buildout of the Hoop Houses.

In July 2018, DBG saw the completion of the 2-acre Piet Oudolf Meadow Garden by our local volunteers and visiting horticulturists from Canada, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Iowa who planted over 70,000 native and pollinator compatible plants.


After a multi-year effort, the Delaware Botanic Gardens has been included in Delaware’s Bond and Funding legislation. In July 2018 and July 2019 our Sussex Legislators prevailed. Our project was allocated $100,000 in the 2019 Bond Bill and $200,000 in the 2020 Bond Bill. Also, for the first time DBG was awarded $5000 in the state’s 2020 Grant in Aid Program.

The Entry Garden and Parking Area, the last piece of our Phase I project, got underway in the first quarter of 2019. This will provide 160 parking spaces with a section set aside for tour buses.

Finally, in September we will open. We open the garden gates at the Grand Opening celebration on September 16.

Banner photograph by Ray Bojarski.