After enjoying an elegant dinner under a warmly lit tent at Good Earth Farm in Ocean View Sept. 15, 200 supporters of the Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek celebrated a major fundraising milestone.
Thanks to money raised by the annual farm dinner fundraiser, as well as individual donations and pledges, more than $500,000 for the garden project has been raised in the last nine months, meeting the match obligation of a Longwood Foundation grant that will provide an additional $750,000 to get the garden up and running.
“People say it's rare for a public garden to be founded by a group of citizens or a private community,” said Sue Ryan, Good Earth Market owner and president of the project's board of directors. “But it's because of all [the people] under this tent and many, many others, that we have secured a beautiful 37-acre site for the garden, we've gotten a group of world-class designers, and we're working quickly toward our permitting process and a groundbreaking in 2017.”
The initial $1.25 million will fund infrastructure costs and the first plantings, which are expected to begin next year on the 37-acre waterfront parcel on Piney Neck Road near Dagsboro.
“It is one of the most important and ambitious projects in Sussex County today,” Ryan said. “What makes a great public garden is its uniqueness and its authenticity. And we have a group working on this project that embraces that to the core. They are designing a garden that will celebrate our place: Sussex County, the coastal plain region and the habitat and what Delmarva is all about.”
The project will combine meadow gardens, woodlands, uplands and 1,000 feet of tidal waterfront views along Pepper Creek. Designers and architects with the project are aiming to make the gardens accessible to anyone, and the buildings and infrastructure as eco-friendly as possible.
“I believe this garden will be on par with some of the most spectacular gardens in this region,” said First Lady Carla Markell, who also serves as the chair of the gardens' advisory council. “Keep at it, because I know you will never find a team like this again. The reality is the fantasy. The fantasy is the reality. How often does that happen in life?”
Now that the first fundraising hurdle has been climbed, there's still a lot left to do, said Delaware Botanic Gardens Board Vice President Ray Sander. Todd Frichtman of Envirotech is working on the design of a wetland classroom for adults and children, and future phases of the gardens will include much more extensive, expensive and permanent buildings.
A master plan for the site is now underway, and will soon go before Sussex County Council for necessary approvals, Sander said. Landscape architect Rodney Robinson, of Wilmington-based Robinson Anderson Summers Inc., is spearheading those details. Also working on the gardens' design are Texas-based Lake Flato Architects Inc., Bancroft Construction Company and world-renowned Dutch author and horticulturist Piet Oudolf, who designed the Gardens of Remembrance at Battery Park and the High Line in New York City, among others.
Sander said a soft kick off for the gardens is expected in late 2016 or early 2017, followed by a groundbreaking and spring plantings in 2017. Garden gates are slated to open to the public in spring 2018.
About 10 jobs will be created as the garden gates open, and when the project reaches completion during the 10-year plan, the attraction will provide more than 100 jobs, Sander said.
In the meantime, pledges and volunteers are still needed. For more information or to get involved, go to www.delawaregardens.org.