The Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce began much-needed building renovations in 2005, aiming to nearly double the size of the Chamber’s office and better meet the needs of the booming number of visitors and businesses that make use of the space on Route 1, just outside Fenwick Island.
The building renovations were also aimed at making the space a model of “best practices” for coastal construction, featuring a geothermal heat pump system and energy-efficient equipment, along with a sun- and storm-resistant exterior to meet nature’s demands at the oceanside property.
The Chamber has been living in its new digs for more than a year, but on Monday, July 16, the last of the renovations on the property were deemed complete, with the opening of the Native Plant Demonstration Garden that comprises its landscaping.
The garden is not only decoration for the Chamber building but is also designed to help educate local property owners about native plants and let them select plants they would want to request and buy from local nurseries, for their own landscapes.
The innovative landscape solution was welcomed with open arms and much hoopla on Monday, with speeches from Chamber Executive Director Karen McGrath, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and state Rep. Gerald Hocker (R-38th), as well as a gathering of Chamber staff, board members and businesspeople.
With temperatures in the mid-80s and the sun blazing in clear skies, McGrath was quick to tout the success of the gardening choice on a practical basis.
“The plants have been in for four weeks now. They’ve had no rain, no fertilizer and they’ve barely been watered,” she emphasized. “But everything’s blooming, growing and looking great.”
Along with the benefits of requiring less water, pesticides and fertilizers, native plantings are most often touted as being friendlier to the local environment, since they don’t pose the same hazards to the natural landscape as invasive, non-native plants that often displace local plants.
In fact, Delaware has lost more native plant species than any other state in the U.S., according to the Delaware Nature Society. The native plantings are considered to provide a better habitat for insects, birds and other animals, as well. The benefits of native plantings have increasingly been touted, leading to a local trend in oceanside and beach-style landscaping, even inland.
Native plantings increasing in popularity
Carper said Monday that he’d become accustomed to parade-goers at the annual Bethany Beach Fourth of July Parade (which he described as the best such parade in Delaware) shouting out to him during his parade ride about the need for beach replenishment — a mission that has nearly been accomplished now.
“They’d yell out to me, ‘Bring us some sand,’” he said, noting that that had changed in 2007 to a “bow down” gesture, in recognition of the successful push for federal funding of the Bethany-South Bethany beach reconstruction project. “Next year, they’ll give a shout-out about wanting a garden,” he joked.
More seriously, Carper said he’d marveled at the recent transformation of the New Castle County Courthouse, which he described as plain and undecorated, until landscaping had been added. He praised the value of plants in the landscape and of the choice of native plantings as part of an environmentally friendly style of living.
“Nuclear power is part of the plan going forward into the future,” he added, noting also in references to a proposed wind farm off the Delaware coast, “I like the idea of wind power.”
Hocker, who heads the state’s Clean Energy and Natural Resources Committee, agreed with Carper on that point, saying he favored methods of power generation that will help reduce the nation’s dependency on foreign oil.
“We passed some renewable energy legislation this session,” he said of the recently completed legislative session in Dover. “If we would have had something like this years ago, I would have put solar panels on the roof of my store,” he noted.
On the subject of the Chamber’s garden, Hocker said, “Now we not only have the best Chamber, but the best-looking Chamber in the state.”
Hocker said he hoped the Chamber would spark a trend with the native plantings. “There are going to be a lot more of them, and we need to be getting them. We need to be planting them ourselves, and I need to be selling a lot more of them in my garden center,” he said.
That’s at least one aim of the demonstration garden at the Chamber. Visitors to the building can pick up a colorful guide to the garden and browse through the plantings to pick out some favorites. The guide points out each of the plant species and illustrates them with drawings and their Latin and common names.
Those interested in buying similar plants for their own garden are encouraged to contact the Chamber for locations where they can be purchased. (Noted on a related brochure are Good Earth Market in Clarksville, Lord’s Landscaping in Millville, Selbyville Pet & Garden and Vines Creek Wholesale Nursery & Landscaping in Frankford.)
The plants in the garden range from things as ubiquitous to the coastal landscape as American beachgrass, black-eyed Susan and seaside goldenrod to the more exotic-sounding — but still native — prickly pear cactus, cinnamon fern and false dragonhead.
Carper was particularly fascinated with the purple love grass, which he and landscape consultant Chantal Bouchard of Nature Design ceremonially planted as the final plant in the new garden. With a chuckle, Carper said the plant’s name reminded him of a myriad of 1960’s songs and band names, all jumbled together.
“Senator, do you do weeding?” McGrath inquired with a laugh as Carper dug into what he noted as soft Sussex County soil and helped Bouchard pat the grassy flora into place.
Group effort brings garden to fruition
Bouchard was one of numerous Chamber members and local gardening gurus who contributed to the project.
Taking the lead was Charlie Kistler of Kina’ole Group, which he describes as a “native artscaping company,” as well as an installer of professional irrigation systems. Kistler said he brought his company’s name from Hawaii, where he lived for a time.
“In Old Hawaii, kina’ole means doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, for the right reason, with the right feeling – the first time,” Kistler notes of the name.
He said Hawaiians, and native Hawaiians in particular, were very much in favor of the kinds of native plantings that his company is now bringing to Delaware’s shore.
In addition to Bouchard and Kistler, local artists crafted hand-made planters for the garden, and PA Packing & Print created the illustrated guide to the garden. The Barefoot Gardeners club, which is based in Fenwick Island, also contributed, providing funds that purchased individual plant markers to inform those touring the garden.
Kistler and representatives of the Barefoot Gardeners each received a marker noting their contributions, which they planted before the official ribbon-cutting held to open the garden on Monday. McGrath also presented Kistler with one of the mural-decorated tiles that were previously given to major contributors to the Chamber renovation project.
Funding for the garden came from the Center for the Inland Bays, which has championed the environmentally-friendly building practices the Chamber employed on the renovated structure, as well as native planting. The Senate’s Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, upon which Carper sits, funds the National Estuary Program, which provides funds to the CIB.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” Carper said. “You’ve proven that it takes a village to plant a garden.”
The Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce’s Native Plant Demonstration Garden can be toured during Chamber operating hours, when the brochure and more information are available.