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.
We are a dream . . .
growing day by day
in colors of green.
Our vision is for beautiful, engaging, gardens that inspire and educate.
Our values encompass inspirational gardens, environmental stewardship, community focus, education
and research, organizational transparency, financial responsibility, and civility and respect.
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, multiphase 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. "Its topography is unusual for Sussex County," says Susan Ryan, president of the garden. 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 will
- Create an environmentally sustainable habitat that will be a place of tranquility, beauty, and education for everyone
- Provide an exceptional coastal plain environment for teaching and learning about nature
- Use a holistic approach to the study of nature
- Create a greater awareness of native Delaware ecosystems
- Enhance Delaware life and benefit Delaware’s economy
- Emphasize learning through enjoyment and active involvement with nature
- Stress learning about nature from natural beauty and by storytelling
- Serve as a resource for local farmers, gardeners, and homeowners
- Maintain a living classroom as an on-site learning environment
- Combine science and art in living laboratories
- Bring 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 Michael Zajic (top and center) and Gregg Tepper (bottom) Below: Flora and fauna already enrich the site.
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
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.
Banner photograph: A great blue heron wades in Pepper Creek alongside the botanic garden site. Photograph by Gregg Tepper