Delaware Botanic Gardens Unveiling

Walking into the Delaware Botanic Garden on a sizzling hot morning in August, the first thing that I spotted was a a bright orange-painted box turtle scurrying down the pathway into the shelter of a nearby log. Being greeted by wildlife is typical at the soon-to-be-opened  37-acre Botanic Gardens that is located on the shores of Pepper Creek in coastal Delmarva, and is teeming with native flora and fauna.

Following closely the goings-on’s at the new Delaware Botanic Gardens at Peppercreek (DBG) has been my mission for the past four years. Lots of buzz drew me to the Delaware beaches with the founding and formation of a brand new world class botanic garden close to home near where I vacation every year. Go to Taking Root: Delaware Botanic Garden’s Progress and Delaware Botanic Gardens-From the Ground Up to see my previous posts.  The DBG is almost at the long anticipated curtain time and the grand opening is on September 12.

Lots of happenings have led up to this grand opening and one of the most momentous was the selection of a new Deputy Executive Director and Director of Horticulture. Transitioning from building a public garden to operating one, will be the new job of Dr Brian Trader, lately of Longwood Gardens and a Delmarva native. I met Brian when he had only been on the job for a few weeks and he seemed enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the challenges ahead of him. And welcoming! That doesn’t describe adequately how friendly and accommodating he was in greeting my group and I, who dropped in with very little notice.

Brian Trader and I enjoying the woodland garden on a hot humid day
From left to right, Brent Baker, Communications Director, Brian Trader, new Deputy Executive Director, Raymond Sander,  Board President, and Sheryl Swed, Executive Director of the gardens board of directors
Aerial view of the showpiece meadow garden early in the season designed by Piet Oudolf; image courtesy of the DBG
Cardinal flower in meadow with yellow sulphur butterfly, photo by Amy Sparwasser

Progress

Since touring the gardens last year at this time- buildings, gardens, and other visible improvements have sprung up. The Meadow Garden designed by Dutch Plantsman Piet Oudolf was planted in stages with the oldest parts planted three seasons ago and plants have matured and filled in. Some plants didn’t make it like hundreds of ‘Blond Ambition’,  Bouteloua gracilis, and were replaced with ‘Black Mountain Grass’, Andropogon.

Many of the ‘Blond Ambition’ grasses didn’t make it

Also heavy rains damaged part of the meadow, but this has all been repaired. Of course weeding is a constant. But it looked like the weed situation was under control and not as bad as last year with so much Dog Fennel, Eupatorium capillfolium, coming up everywhere. Volunteers are still the driving force behind the gardens, involved in every facet of the plantings, and maintenance.

Don Klima, a volunteer from early days at DBG, weeding in the meadow garden on a brutally hot day in August

Welcome Center

A new cedar Welcome Center has been built with lots of financial support from the local business community, and it has already been open for visitors for special events. At the entrance to the garden, specifically the meadow garden, the Welcome Center greets visitors with a perfectly framed expanse of meadow. The location is designed to usher in visitors with a bang, directly into the showpiece meadow garden.

The Welcome Center drops you directly into the Meadow Garden
Inside the new Welcome Center

Blueberry Bonanza

A major project was the planting of 1,824 low bush blueberry plants by volunteers in May. Planted around the Dogfish Head Brewery Learning Garden, the blueberries are designed to stabilize the dunes and be a wildlife resource.

Blueberries were planted around the Dogfish Head Learning Garden

Meadow Progress
The first change I noticed about the meadow was the stone dust pathways. This grey crushed fine stone was laid down and tamped firmly in place and makes a nice framework for all the meadow beds. I liked it so much I might use it in some of my landscape projects! Edged with a steel edge, the crushed stone will be kept in place from migrating into the meadow beds.

Stone dust pathway

Over 70,000 herbaceous perennials and grasses are represented in the meadow garden and the lists can be seen at The Delaware Botanic Gardens Plant List.

Closed Bottle Gentian was a nice surprise in the meadow
In the meadow, photo by Amy Sparwasser

The meadow garden was designed to support countless pollinators, butterflies, birds, and other insects. Located in the Atlantic Flyway, birds will benefit greatly from these plantings that support so many insects. A bird watching destination, the meadow will draw birds from all over.

A new plant for me, Salvia azurea ‘Nekan’ was glorious in the meadow
Meadow expanse in August
The butterflies were abundant everywhere
Meadow, by Amy Sparwasser
Liatris makes a statement even after finished blooming
Liatris in meadow
Calamintha in meadow spilling over pathway

Folly Garden

Brent & Becky’s Bulbs of Gloucester, VA, donated a large collection of spring-blooming bulbs that were planted  by volunteers in the Folly Garden which had many bulbs already in place. When this garden blooms in the spring, with the addition of these bulbs, it will be a show-stopper in the spring. Go to YouTube to see a video of it this past spring. The original bulbs were from the Philadelphia Flower Show of an award winning exhibit, and include species crocus, anemones, snowdrops, netted iris, squills, and daffodils, both mini and full size.

Crevice Garden

In the center of the Folly is a crevice garden that is planted with many of the bulbs and includes plants that need good drainage like agaves.

 

Agave

The Anderson Holly Collection 

Every major Botanical Gardens has  a concentration of a particular plant variety, and it is appropriate for the DBG to have started with a wonderful holly collection. Donated by Charles Anderson, a long time member of the Holly Society of America, he collected more than 120 cultivars of holly at his property outside of Baltimore, MD. Mr Anderson donated almost a quarter of his collection of both deciduous and evergreen hollies to the DBG  and they are scattered along the pathways where you can easily see them, continuing his educational mission.

One of the Anderson Hollies

The Woodland Garden

The Woodland Garden is unique in being a shoreline coastal garden. an exceptional coastal plain environment for teaching and learning about nature and a place of exceptional beauty.

Nyssa trees line the shoreline and were starting to turn

Featuring plants from the native coastal plain, the garden’s most restful and unique feature is a undisturbed forest that slopes down to the 1,000 foot frontage on Pepper Creek. Forested wetlands showcase mosses, ferns, and wildlife that live here, such as abundant birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Salamanders. frogs, toads, lizards, and snakes thrive in this moist habitat, some of them endangered. Plantings continue in this area with natives that enjoy this unique acidic environment.

Vernal ponds or ephemeral pools, are seasonal pools of water that provide habitat for distinctive plants and animals
An old wooden fishing boat was uncovered and will be left as an artifact
Frontage of Pepper Creek

I was very impressed with the western edge of the Woodland Garden which was planted by Girl Scout Troop 20566 of York, PA, with over 500 plants and 4 Red Bud trees. Co-troop leader Wendy Brister’s girls raised money by selling native plants to buy all these new plantings, and were inspired and learned about the importance of pollinators in the native ecosystem. A great project!

Woodland edge has been planted by Wendy Brister’s Girl Scout troop located in York, PA
Woodland edge

What’s Next?

An adjacent large property has 250+ year old cypresses growing, and seed has been collected from these trees. Mt Cuba is in the process of germinating them for future plantings at DBG. The property is also for sale but beyond the means of funds of the DBG, which will have a major impact on the gardens if they are developed.

Shoreline at DBG

Education

The educational mission is paramount for the gardens and outreach continues with all ages welcome. Partnerships with local businesses continues with community colleges and universities partnerships being explored. Promoting horticulture as a career with students from preschool up is part of the mission with emphasis on the learning garden, and outdoor educational classes. Art in the landscape, bird watching, special events, and weddings in the gardens are all things that people will be able to enjoy at DBG. To continue this mission, go to Delaware Botanic Gardens and make a donation or volunteer.

One of the inland dunes at DBG
Meadow, by Amy Sparwasser