The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, stranded Lewes resident Warren Golde in England.
Without knowing for certain when he would be allowed to return home, Golde began to tour the country, including a visit to the East Sussex town of Lewes, on the south side of the island, for which our local town was named. Although the locals weren’t exactly friendly, he said, the town was beautifully adorned with flowers, plants and other welcoming accoutrements. That was the day the idea for Lewes in Bloom was born.
At the time, Golde was working at Baywood Greens as the director of horticulture, and he was attending a weeklong seminar at Great Dixter, the estate of famous garden writer Christopher Lloyd.
“I had an extra week to spend in England, so I rented a car,” he said. “Overall, visiting Lewes wasn't a very pleasant experience, but one thing I did take away from there is they had flowers in their downtown. And I thought, ‘Well, if Lewes can have flowers in their downtown, I'd like to see some in my Lewes.”
Upon returning home, he went back to work at Baywood. But the idea stuck with him and was further strengthened during a trip to Columbus, Ohio, for a trade show.
“America in Bloom had just started off that year, and I hadn't heard anything about it,” Golde said. “But they had a booth. I was interested, so I went over.”
He loved the program so much, he brought it back to Lewes. He first met with Betsy Reamer of the Lewes Chamber of Commerce; then he was joined by seven ladies who would become the founding members of Lewes in Bloom.
They next went to a city council meeting where Mayor George H.P. Smith gave his stamp of approval. The city provided Lewes in Bloom with $1,000. The members used that money to purchase planters and hayracks for downtown streets and near the Beacon Motel. That first year, the ladies filled their car trunks with gallon water jugs, driving around to water each plant.
Meetings in the early years were held in the Schoolhouse on the Lewes Historical Society campus. Members would sit at children’s desks, Golde said with a laugh.
Lewes in Bloom entered its first America in Bloom competition in 2002. Golde vividly remembers one grumpy judge who did not like anything about Lewes.
“We didn't win any awards,” Golde said. “This group, headed by Brenda Brady, they took this to heart the next year. I don't remember everything we did, but we did a hell of a lot better, because we won in 2003. And that was our first award.”
The next year, they entered the Communities in Bloom International Challenge, and while they didn’t win, they received a Five Bloom Award, the highest rating.
“We did pretty darn good,” Golde said. “And we were competing against towns from Canada and Europe.”
They kept at it, winning another America in Bloom award in 2005. Then again in 2010.
2010 also brought the inaugural Tulip Festival, now known as the Tulip Celebration. In preparation, Lewes in Bloom volunteers planted 6,000 bulbs.
“We do that in one day today,” Golde said. “It’s kind of grown over the years.”
Like the Tulip Celebration, Lewes in Bloom has expanded over time. In 2013, the group started the Children’s Learning Garden, offering kids a fun and educational hands-on experience during the summer, especially with the popular Ladybug Day, when kids help release hundreds of ladybugs in the garden.
With three America in Bloom awards under its belt, Lewes in Bloom was eligible for the organization’s Circle of Champions competition. It entered the contest in 2015, and took the top prize again.
During a trip to Holland, Mich., to receive the award, Golde and his wife Jane Ellan, and fellow members Linda and Dennis Davison discovered an element missing from Lewes – public art. Upon returning, they worked with others to create Art in Bloom. The initiative has resulted in the Silent Sentinels whirligig sculptures near the library, the menhaden fishing mural on the side of the Beacon Motel and, most recently, the mosaic mural on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal drawbridge.
Lewes in Bloom’s success continued in 2018, when the organization entered its biggest competition yet – Communities in Bloom’s International Challenge.
“Everybody pitched in and did a wonderful job, and somehow or another we won,” Golde said. “You know, we deserved to win,” he added.
While in Edmonton, Canada, to receive the award, Golde was approached by a board member of Communities in Bloom who invited Lewes to plant a garden in Cervia, Italy. A crew of 14 went to Europe to install a Delaware-themed garden in the seaside resort town. They were the first group from the U.S. to be invited to exhibit, Golde said.
“That was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Golde said. “I think we held our own very well. It was quite an honor.”
Lewes in Bloom continues to be a strong and popular organization within the city, now boasting more than 300 members, or patrons, as they’re called within the group. When Lewes in Bloom started in 2002, it cared for a half-dozen areas. Now, it’s nearly 25. They also plant more than 6,000 annuals and more than 25,000 bulbs.
“I may have been the instigator, but gosh, I couldn’t have done it without all of [our patrons] and the several hundred before [them],” Golde said.
A 20th anniversary celebration was held Sept. 7 at the Lewes Public Library, with many of the organization’s patrons in attendance. Mayor Ted Becker, who has seen the transformation of Lewes firsthand, congratulated Lewes in Bloom on its success and shared a proclamation.
“I think I’ve said this a thousand times before, but we’re a community of volunteers, and [Lewes in Bloom] certainly exemplifies that,” he said.
He said Lewes’ beauty has boosted local tourism, offering a unique experience for visitors to the city.
“The transformation that has happened in the city because of [Lewes in Bloom’s] efforts is simply astonishing,” Becker said.
Brenda Brady, one of the founders and early chairs of Lewes in Bloom, thanked the current patrons for their hard work in continuing to beautify the city.
“We had no idea it would come to this, and it’s wonderful to see,” she said. “I appreciate the fact that you [the patrons] are willing to carry forward what we started 20 years ago.”
To close out the 20th anniversary celebration, Co-chair Sue Crawford read a poem she wrote for the occasion:
“To old friends and new in their LIB shirts,
down on their knees, hands in the dirt,
To the founding members who led the way,
the reason we are all here today,
To those who are absent, and those in this room,
Let’s cheer to the joy that is Lewes in Bloom.”
To learn more about Lewes in Bloom, go to lewesinbloom.org.