Although the Delaware Botanic Gardens has plenty of planting to do, this month was for planning. The DBG board and designers recently held a three-day charrette — the French term for a meeting in which all stakeholders gather to plan solutions for the future.
Since the garden attraction is the first of its kind in southeast Delaware, the planners have attracted some big names: Ted Flato, of the award-winning architecture firm Lake/Flato, will supervise master planning for the site; Delaware’s own Rodney Robinson serves as the garden’s landscape architect; and internationally acclaimed Dutch designer Piet Oudolf will create one of his signature meadows.
Originally hoped to open this June, the DBG is now aiming for the spring of 2017. Visitors next spring will see the woodlands, Oudolf’s meadow, a pavilion and entrance improvements. In later years, the garden should flourish with a freshwater pond, children’s garden, a visitor center, an amphitheater, a greenhouse and more.
They’re ironing out details on the ground, which had ranged from discussing educational programs to Board President Sue Ryan marching through the woodlands with a tape measure to envision various land designs.
“It’s one thing on paper,” Ryan said, but with site visits, the team can actually see how sunlight will hit the site and how the woodlands slope down to the river.
Located on Piney Neck Road, the 37-acre site looks just like its neighbors: another agricultural field in a farming community. With 25 acres of “blank canvas” at the site’s front, the field leads to 12.5 acres of woodlands, which reveals a hidden landscape of the Pepper Creek shoreline.
Planners are looking for the best way to show off those features. They are trying to create an impactful narrative that pulls people into the woods for surprises around every corner.
For instance, “The architectural component is not just a matter of plopping down a building,” Robinson said. This charrette, he said, “has begun to change things, because the architecture is [responding to the] landscape of Sussex County.
“We’re all trying to make this garden distinctive so people will want to see it,” Robinson said, calling the botanic gardens’ team a great, energetic and committed group of people with a “can-do and will-do spirit.”
When asked how they’ll control pests such as ticks — notorious in Delaware for spreading Lyme disease, Oudolf said, “People should protect themselves. You never solve it, so as a person you always have to be aware. … We all have our responsibility in life.”
His idea of personal responsibility resonates with the garden’s goal to work with what they have, to sculpt and enhance nature, not paint over it. But, ultimately, this is a designed garden, not a wildlife restoration, Robinson said.
And some of the bugs carried by animals will exit the equation when the garden erects a fence to keep deer out, Flato said. By using environmentally sustainable buildings, the garden could reduce opportunities for pests, too.
A project of this magnitude requires a lot of fundraising. Phase I construction and operating expenses are estimated at about $3 million. (Oudolf’s garden will cost nearly $350,000 alone).
The volunteer gardens board said they are already grateful to have received more than $100,000 worth of professional engineering, design and legal pro bono contributions from Delaware companies, plus support from local, state and federal officials.
“So many individuals, families, businesses and other supporters have already stepped up to help us ‘Open the Garden Gates,’” Ryan said of the first fundraising phase. “We can’t thank them enough for their confidence in us and urge everyone on Delmarva to join them in making this dream a reality.”
Currently, donations to help DSB will go even further, thanks to a matching grant program with the Longwood Foundation, which announced the awarding of up to a $750,000 grant in December ($500,000 awarded immediately, and another $250,000 when DBG matches that with an additional $500,000). The Longwood challenge expires in March of 2017.
Other recent Delaware contributors include the Welfare Foundation for $75,000, the Crestlea Foundation for $50,000 and the Marmot Foundation for $40,000.
Single donations and long-term pledges count toward the Longwood goal. Donations may be made online at www.delawaregardens.org or by check mailed to Delaware Botanic Gardens, P.O. Box 1390, Ocean View, DE 19970. (The Southern Delaware Botanic Gardens Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.)