Delaware Botanic Garden in Bloom During COVID

On a breezy, refreshingly warm, not hot day, I visited the Delaware Botanic Gardens to see see how things have developed in a year of many happenings, most importantly the impact of COVID. Like most other public gardens, DBG has been closed to the public all season and as a young, still expanding public garden, I was apprehensive that the closing would have a detrimental effect of rampant weed growth which could quickly overtake new plantings. And I was curious if the pandemic had any impact on the garden creation progress, when I pulled up to the DBG parking lot.

A striking garden spider, Argiope aurantia, sets up shop outside the Visitor Center


Monarch on Agastache, ‘Purple Boa’

Rhyne Garden

The first thing you notice in the parking lot at the Delaware Botanic Gardens is the long newly planted Rhyne Garden (Ryhne is what  a drainage ditch is called in the UK). Managing stormwater runoff, the Rhyne Garden is planted in 12,000 plants of wild indigo (Baptisia), coneflowers (Echinacea), phlox, bee balm (Monarda), and rush (Juncus). This combination means color, structure, and function. In the fall a row of red maples (Acer rubrum ‘Brandywine’) will be added on either side of the planted swale or drainage ditch, extending the color show.

Planted Rhyne Garden showing lots of color in the spring, photo courtesy of DBG
You can see the sheer scope of the plantings from this drone photo of the Rhyne Garden, photo courtesy DBG
A volunteer planting one of the 12,000 plants in the Rhyne Garden, photo courtesy of DBG

Similar to a rain garden, where the plants selected will thrive in a sudden inundation of rainwater or a dry period, on the day I visited, the vivid phlox was at its peak bloom and formed solid blocks of color. Carpeted with bright green soft rush (Juncus effuses) at the bottom of the ditch, the Rhyne Garden caught my attention right away with the darting insects fluttering in and out of the flowers.

The Rhyne Garden has Juncus planted at the bottom
Over 12,000 plants were planted in the Rhyne Garden
Swallowtail nectaring on a Phlox in the Rhyne Garden
Early in the season, multicolored Coneflowers took center stage, photo courtesy of DBG

Volunteer Help – The Garden Stewards

Volunteers at DBG are the beating heart of the garden. Without the help and support of  dedicated volunteers, the gardens would not be where they are today.  I thought that volunteers during COVID must have some qualms about working at the gardens, even though the work is outside, and I asked Carol McCloud this question.

Volunteer hard at work at the endless task of weeding

Carol McCloud, Vice President and Director of Volunteers, updated me on that status at once. The volunteers couldn’t wait to return and were constantly asking when they could start. Weeds don’t stop growing even in a pandemic and the earlier you get a handle on the weeds, the better. Any gardener knows that large weeds are the start of a vicious cycle  – reseeding and returning the next year. Nip them in the bud!

I learn about new plants every time I go to DBG. This is native Euthamia caroliniana, Slender Goldentop, beautifully sprawling over the crushed stone pathway
Insect on Euthamia caroliniana

Carol reports that most of the volunteers did return except for a few high risk individuals, and they have in fact added to the team. When DBG posted the signup schedule for returning, it quickly filled up. That is a luxury that many other public gardens would love to experience! But of course, with the extreme heat this summer, volunteers need to start early, and leave when the heat gets too unbearable.

Volunteers have the proper equipment, like mobile golf carts, to do their jobs efficiently

Some essential garden tasks didn’t get done on time, according to Carol, and the gardens are playing catch-up to get up to speed. When I visited though, I thought that things look remarkably neat and tidy. Yes, I spotted a few weeds, but nothing that I thought was excessive in such a large intensively planted garden.

Strategically placed driftwood makes a statement in the Gardens
Yellow Sulphur on cardinal flower in the meadow, photo by Amy Sparwasser

Visiting Guidelines During COVID

The Gardens are open every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Timed member reservations and timed general admission tickets are required for all visitors during open hours. Once you have entered the Gardens. you can stay until closing time. Social distancing and the wearing of masks is required when close to others, but if you are walking alone on a garden path, you don’t have to mask up. These guidelines were similar to what I just experienced with my recent visit to Longwood Gardens.

The pink Muhly Grass is well worth visiting in September, photo courtesy of DBG
Painter’s palette aerial view of the meadow, photo courtesy of DBG
Photo courtesy of DBG

In fact, we are entering the perfect season to visit in what Piet Oudolf, the meadow designer, calls the “Fifth Season”. Many flowers are finished but the architecture of the plants is just as striking and the seeds on the cone flowers especially, provide food for the birds. Brilliant yellow Goldfinches swooping in flocks to sweep up cone flower seeds at different parts of the day, is a common occurrence – a great testament to not cutting these plants back. Pink Muhly grasses (Muhlenbergia capillaris) in the meadow, are starting to show their beautiful pink coloration  which bring waves of color into the late summer/fall garden.

Brian Trader, Director of Horticulture, masked up in the temporary visitor center, answered many of my questions when I visited
A bench strategically placed to enjoy the shoreline of Pepper Creek that borders the gardens

Next Up

All the completed work so far, is just the first of eight phases of developing the gardens. A boardwalk with a bird watching area in the woods is in the works, which excited me as I love to bird watch. Also on tap; A 1.5 acre freshwater pond with bald cypress trees, a Gallery Garden with an expansive lawn to hold events, demonstration gardens, and a Cascade Garden with water features, are all down the road and something to look forward to. And restrooms!! Instead of a spot a pot – real restrooms are planned by the end of this year.

Stachys ‘Hummelo’ spring bloom in the centerpiece meadow designed by Piet Oudolf, photo courtesy of DBG

Help Support the Gardens

Memberships to DBG are available in a variety of levels, including $95 for individuals and $200 for families, per year. For more information about joining, as well as volunteering, visit Delaware Gardens. Enjoy unlimited free Garden admission year round, plant sale previews, discounts at the Welcome Center Gift Shop and much more. Your support helps the Garden’s horticultural, educational and conservation programs thrive and expand.

August/September is the prime time to see Monarchs at the Gardens

Virtual Visits

To view the YouTube channel on a variety of garden installations and topics go to Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek. You would be amazed at the amount of progress made from the first layout of the meadow just a few years ago.

The meadow garden, photo by Amy Sparwasser

To see my prior posts on DBG and its metamorphosis through the years, go to Delaware Botanic Gardens Unveiling, Delaware Botanic Gardens – From the Ground Up, and Taking Root: Delaware Botanic Gardens Progress Report.

Striped Skinks dart through the gardens

Virtual Dinner Party- Save the Date

Coming up in just a few weeks on September 25, 2020, at 6 PM, is the ‘virtual’ dinner party. A huge fundraiser every year, the dinner party, because of COVID, like other organizations is holding it on-line. I really like this way of doing it as you can eat and enjoy the dinner in the comfort of your home, plus you can enjoy it with others. Music and vocals are also included and a video tour of the Gardens.

Balloon Flower, Platycodon grandiflorus, pops up in the meadow for a pop of color

Presented by SoDel Concepts Chef Ronnie Burkle, with Chef Charles Armstrong, Chef Brendan Tharp, Chef Alex Martinez, and Chef Dru Tevis, they have created a Tuscan-inspired menu to compliment several wines from Tuscany. The virtual Dinner Party program includes 5-course Tuscan-inspired dinners (including wine) picked up at local area restaurants and will be broadcast live over the internet.

See you there!

10 Replies to “Delaware Botanic Garden in Bloom During COVID”

  1. It looks lovely! I’m hopeful that I”ll be able to visit at some point traveling north or south to our cottage in Quebec.

    We visited Mt. Cuba last fall as we returned back to NC, and enjoyed that immensely.

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