Exploring the delights of Mill Pond Garden

February 14, 2021

On a January afternoon, I wavered at the thought of visiting Mill Pond Garden, an outdoor garden recommended by a friend. But when I toured the property of the homeowner and creator Michael Zajic, my mind simply marveled at the beauteous landscape of shrubs and trees, and yes, flowering plants, around me.

“Nature is our greatest teacher and greatest joy. Public gardens are like plant and happiness schools; we need them now more than ever,” explained Zajic, who has devoted his entire career to designing gardens to share with the public.

Zajic began his career as lead gardener at Fannie Mae headquarters in Washington, D.C., with a nine-acre campus. Soon he was hired from among 120 applicants to be horticultural supervisor of Brookside Gardens and the McCrillis Gardens for the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission, where he served for 23 years until retiring in 2003. 

My husband and I were frequent visitors to Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Md. We were married in the rose garden in 1979. Zajic invented the annual winter of light show and brought it to Mill Pond.

Zajic founded the Delaware Botanic Gardens, but he wanted a garden in Lewes, so in 2005, he opened his private garden and shared it with the neighborhood. Because of neighborhood interest and popular demand, “It became incorporated as a certified nonprofit public garden in 2013 to serve the wider community without infringing on the peace of the neighborhood,” Michael said.

“We show plants that do well at the Cape,” he explains. “Plants are labeled with scientific names, which is what makes a botanical garden. We accommodate wildlife, such as a frog pond and three hibernacula, one for box turtles to winter over and two for garter snakes, frogs, lizards, skinks and salamanders. Box houses are scattered about to house different kinds of birds and bats.” 

There was much to see in winter. Scores of flowering camellias, hellebores, and spirea. Nine coral bark maples. A fountain and a gnome garden. Arbors against the backdrop of a glassy Red Mill Pond. 

Michael urges me to return in the spring to see thousands of tulips, daffodils, crocus, azaleas, wisteria, and Virginia bluebells. 

Summer will feature large-leaf tropical plants and overlapping peaks of pollinator plants, such as tall phlox, day lilies, water lilies, crepe myrtles, and butterfly bushes. 

Fall hosts chrysanthemums along with orange, gold, purple, and red leaves on shrubs and trees. 

Ticket sales for open garden days are limited to a small number of cars each half-hour so the flow of traffic is light and street parking is not a problem in the neighborhood. Currently, the garden is open for three hours on a few days each month. Each car pays $12 for one ticket for all passengers.

Mill Pond Garden is available for small weddings or events, photography sessions, and artists’ plein air painting. Donations make up half the budget, so any amount is extremely welcome. Volunteers are also welcome.

Zajic’s long-term goal is to garner community support to acquire a piece of suitable land from the Sussex County Land Trust, or from one of the towns, or even a small part of Cape Henlopen State Park, to create another horticultural Eden.

Mill Pond Garden has a huge plant budget and six part-time contractors. Michael can offer advice and encouragement for gardeners with questions and those who are wishing to start, grow, or improve gardens in the area, since many people move here from a different climate zone and are eager to learn about the possibilities. 

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