Progress blooming at Delaware Botanic Gardens

First round of planting relies on volunteers
October 3, 2017

Over three days in early September, nearly 50 volunteers grabbed shovels, rakes and garden gloves to plant more than 17,000 flowers and grasses – each plant assigned its own spot – at Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek in Dagsboro.

As the sun shone down on the 2-acre meadow along Piney Neck Road Sept. 7, Millville resident Craig Haggerty pushed a wheelbarrow to a massive pile of mulch.

“I call this my garden club,” the D.C. native said. “It's so exciting to be at the ground level of this project.”

Haggerty said, after seeing plans for the meadow, she's in awe. What was once an untamed farm field is finally taking shape.

“It's going to put Dagsboro on the map,” she said.

The first phase of the meadow is just a snapshot of the meandering garden design envisioned by Dutch author and renowned horticulturist Piet Oudolf, known for his elevated garden along the High Line in New York City and dozens of other garden projects around the world.

“Every turn is another perspective,” he said of the meadow. While each plant is meticulously placed – evident by orange and red flags directing volunteers where each plant type belongs – the mature garden will look more natural, he said.

Oudolf has chosen 54 plant species – about 85 percent are native – to fill the field with pops of color among the grays, blues and greens of grasses that change with the seasons.

“The beauty of native plants is sometimes hidden,” he said. “Now we can put them on stage.”

It will take one full season for the garden to mature, Oudolf said, which should be in plenty of time for the Delaware Botanic Gardens’ slated opening in spring 2019.

“I have sort of an impressionistic style,” Oudolf explained. “I don't work with color – I work with seasons and texture.”

Next summer, nearly 50,000 more plants will go in the ground, completing the meadow.

“Every week you come to visit is different,” he said. “This time of year will be best for insects and birds.”

The meadow is only one part of the 37-acre site. When the gardens open in spring 2019, the 2-acre meadow, about half of 12 acres of woodlands and an outdoor classroom will be the first features open to the public. Other features include 1,000 feet of waterfront and a planned visitor’s center.

which will also feature 12 acres of woodlands, 1,000 feet of waterfront views, an outdoor classroom, visitor's center and other amenities. 

“People can see how they can plant around their own homes with some beautiful natives,” said Ray Sander, president of the garden's board of directors. “But we wouldn't be able to do it without volunteers, in-kind support and donations.”

For more about Delaware Botanic Gardens or how to get involved, go to