Warren Golde: Living in the garden
Warren Golde has always enjoyed getting a little dirty.
Well before leading Lewes to international recognition for its beauty, Golde was designing the landscape at Baywood Greens, overseeing a grand estate in Maryland and breeding roses in California.
It all started 75 years ago, when his grandfather introduced a 5-year-old boy to the garden at their family’s summer home in Mamaroneck, N.Y. He’s been hooked on plants ever since.
“I was basically designing the flower beds around our summer home when I was 10 years old,” he said.
He majored in botany at Yale because it was the closest he could get to horticulture. His father wanted him to be a doctor, but his passions took him in another direction. He then attended the University of Connecticut for graduate school, focusing on horticulture.
Golde met his wife of 56 years, Jane Ellan, while at Yale, which was not a coed school at the time. Golde attended a mixer at Smith College, an hour or so north in Massachusetts, where Jane Ellan was a student. The couple married in 1963 and have lived in Delaware for more than 50 years.
After graduation from UConn, he went to the West Coast to become a rose breeder, working for an estate. But when the estate was liquidated, Golde was jobless.
He tried to make it work for a few years, but moved back east and bought Delmarva Nurseries in Lincoln, operating a nursery and greenhouse for many years. He then changed directions and ran florist shops in Milford, Seaford and Dover until about 1990, when he accepted a job as a horticulturist at the large, thousand-acre estate of a Washington, D.C. developer in Oxford, Md. The experience was unlike anything he’d encountered before, he said.
“He ran it like a slave plantation,” Golde said. “He wouldn’t let two people work together because he thought they’d talk too much, and it was too inefficient. There were about six or seven people working, but we could never be in the same place at the same time.”
Golde admits he was probably too assertive, and they let him go. So he took a job as a greenhouse salesman with Janco Greenhouse in Laurel, Md. The company was looking for someone with practical knowledge who could talk to growers. That didn’t quite work out either, this time because he was his own worst enemy.
“I made a big sale in the first year, and it took up the entire capacity of the plant,” he said. “They wouldn’t expand, so I was just kind of stuck. If I went out and sold something, the customers would be angry at me because it took five months to get a job done.”
So he was in search of a new job again. Just when he was ready to give up and change career paths to computer programming, his sister-in-law called with great news – Baywood Greens was in need of a landscape designer. He applied and got it, starting in 1999, the same year the course opened.
He got to work making it as beautiful as possible, and he is part of the reason Baywood was named “Augusta of the North” by Golf World magazine, comparing the grounds to Augusta National Golf Club, which is on display every April during the Masters golf tournament.
“I did all the landscape at the clubhouse, wedding garden, bridges, entryways,” he said. “I didn’t do the grass, but all the trees and flower beds along the course were my responsibility.”
It was during his time at Baywood that the idea for Lewes in Bloom came about.
Golde was visiting England for a weeklong seminar at world-renowned Great Dixter in 2001, when the events of Sept. 11 occurred. His flight home was delayed due to the tragedy, so he ventured to Lewes, England.
“I saw planters downtown and hay racks and thought, I’d love to see this in my Lewes,” he said. “I didn’t know how to do it.”
That winter, he attended a trade show and was introduced to America in Bloom, which promotes community enhancement programs through the use of flowers, plants and trees. It also sponsors an annual nationwide competition.
He approached Betsy Reamer at the Lewes Chamber of Commerce with an idea for Lewes in Bloom. After an advertisement was placed in the paper, seven ladies attended the first official meeting.
They sought and received support and a small amount of funding from Mayor George H.P. Smith, then-Deputy Mayor Jim Ford and city council.
In the 19 years since that first meeting, Lewes in Bloom has grown to nearly 270 members. What started out as a few planters on Second Street and three or four gardens has grown to 20 locations throughout Lewes with about 10,000 volunteer hours dedicated annually to maintenance.
Lewes has been recognized as the Most Beautiful Small City in America four times – 2002, 2005, 2010 and 2015 – since the formation of Lewes in Bloom. Lewes added more hardware when it won the Communities in Bloom International Challenge for medium-sized cities in 2018. With the win, they were invited to plant a Delaware-themed garden in Cervia, Italy, last summer.
The city is on display every spring during the Tulip Celebration. An idea of Mayor Ted Becker, it was put into motion by the chamber of commerce and Lewes in Bloom. For the 2020 event, Lewes in Bloom planted 23,000 tulips and nearly 4,000 assorted spring bulbs.
Golde believes Lewes in Bloom has directly affected tourism, home values and livability of Lewes.
“Lewes in Bloom has created a synergy that has spread to the beautification of homes and neighborhoods,” he said. “What I am most proud of is that Lewes in Bloom has shown what a dedicated group of volunteers can do when they have a cause and a goal.”
Golde doesn’t consider himself retired, as he’s continue to do work through his landscape company Garden Dreams. Along with his work with Lewes in Bloom, he said, he’s basically working full time.
For all his efforts to keep Lewes beautiful, the Delaware River and Bay Authority recently renamed the Gateway Garden by the lighthouse replica on Freeman Highway in Golde’s honor. The accolade took Golde by surprise when it was announced Dec. 20 at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal.
“Warren has been an icon and inspiration for everyone,” said Thomas Cook, DRBA executive director.
Despite all the successes, Golde is quick to push praise onto others, saying the past chairs have handled administrative and fundraising activities, allowing him to concentrate efforts on the beautification of Lewes.
“I may be the leader, but I couldn’t have done it without everybody else,” he said.