Discover the natural beauties of the Delaware Botanical Gardens

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DAGSBORO, Del. (AP) – Crystal-clear skies reflect off the calm water of Pepper Creek as, almost on cue, one of the resident bald eagles skims the shore in a royal arc.

It’s this kind of awe in nature – like a child curiously digging through mud or exploring unknown paths in the woods – that the team at Delaware Botanic Gardens hopes to inspire in its visitors.

While Delawares and tourists may be most familiar with northern botanical gardens, like Mount Cuba or nearby Longwood Gardens, a natural oasis has recently blossomed in Sussex County.


Dream of many passionate volunteers, this space of tranquility and education took years to build. The Delaware Botanical Gardens at Pepper Creek, near Dagsboro, opened to the public in September 2019 with promises of future expansions and events.

But then, just as the full first season would begin in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Through virtual tours, social distancing and mask requirements, volunteers and staff have offered creative ways for people to experience the gardens safely over the past two years.

Now, as spring sets in, the Delaware Botanical Gardens have opened their doors, ready to celebrate how much they have grown and worked to showcase the native plants and wildlife of the inland bays.

And the staff hopes more people will discover the beauties of this hidden natural gem, just a dozen kilometers west of the beaches.

PRESERVING THE LAND AND STORIES

Before it became home to a carefully designed meadow that is now beginning to bloom into bright perennials like faux indigo and echinacea, the 37-acre gardens were once vast expanses of soybean fields.

Like most land in Sussex County, this farm could have been intended as a housing estate. Instead, in 2015 the Sussex County Land Trust offered to lease the site on Piney Neck Road near Dagsboro for $1 a year for the next 99 years to make way for the gardens.

As visitors today explore the wooded and open spaces of the gardens, they can imagine what the generations of farming families who lived here were like. The brick foundation of the original house is now bursting with new life as plants clamber up its walls, and further into the woods people can see the old fishing boat and outdoor brick oven which the family used to dine on the water.

According to Stephen Pryce Lea, Director of Horticulture, one of the former residents, now 90, got to see how her family’s stories will live on through the gardens.

This repurposing – also seen in a metal gate that a volunteer found at a local antique store and incorporated into the gardens – shows how preserving history and the land can form something beautiful.

AN OPPORTUNITY TO RELAX AND LEARN

Whether strolling through Folly Gardens and gazing at the new reflection pond or strolling through the 12-acre woodland gardens where the birds chatter overhead, Pryce Lea said he’s noticed a change in people. people after their visit.

If they arrived with lingering stress or worries, he said, it all seems to dissipate by the time they leave.

“They leave feeling almost like a totally different person,” he said, commenting on the way smiles spread across guests’ faces as they returned to the recently completed welcome center.

But more than a respite from the busy lives of visitors, or even crowded beaches and jammed highways during the summer, the Delaware Botanical Gardens also offer countless opportunities for learning.

Throughout the gardens, guests can find huge bird nests created by volunteers by weaving tree branches, sticks and other natural materials. These nests are artistic, but they also teach people about habitats they don’t normally see in trees. The enlarged nests are home to many insects and other animals, Pryce Lea said.

Inside one of the larger nests is a circle of wooden stools where Pryce Lea said he hopes to accommodate classes or groups who want to use the space for story time or other fun times. education.

On May 18, the Botanical Gardens will host Bugs and Beer – a hands-on display where people will dip buckets into the pond at the Dogfish Learning Garden and identify the small organisms that live there. As the name suggests, the event will also feature drinks for kids and adults.

Even more events will be possible with the construction of the Annette Pennoni Meadow Pavilion, a 2,500 square foot facility that will allow the gardens to extend their annual programming season and generate more revenue.

Meanwhile, the gardens have recently completed construction of a new modern toilet, which includes a rain collection system and surrounding native plants.

Throughout the gardens, from the Rhyne Garden which absorbs pollution in the car park to the Living Shoreline Project which helps to mitigate erosion from rising sea levels, guests can view the gardens’ conservation efforts in time. real.

The organization has often partnered with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, as well as the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, to bring these projects to fruition.

There are still more plants to plant and plans to draw, but with the help of approximately 120 rotating volunteers, the Delaware Botanical Gardens is looking forward to welcoming more people to experience this peaceful and educational escape this season. .

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