Delaware botanic garden beginning to grow

Group seeks site for first showplace
March 12, 2012

There’s growing fervor about developing at least one botanic garden and maybe more in the Cape Region. A group calling itself Southern Delaware Botanic Gardens is seeking volunteers who have skills to help the idea take root and blossom.

“Location is going to be our biggest issue,” said Michael Zajic, group president.

Zajic has been the driving force behind establishing a botanic garden. About 45 garden enthusiasts who want to be involved gathered Feb. 18 at the Lewes Public Library.

Although selecting the botanic garden’s location might not be easy, land is available. Zajic said a few landowners are considering providing parcels, and the group has been talking with the owner of a 100-acre parcel adjacent to Route 24 near Millsboro.

Zajic said he has also talked to City of Lewes officials and learned the city has two parcels suitable for a garden that could be leased.

City of Milford and Town of Millsboro officials have also said they’d like a botanic garden.

“Nobody ever says no. Everybody says yes,” Zajic said.

Zajic said he has also talked to Gov. Jack Markell’s administrative staff about starting a botanic garden, and Markell has appointed Delaware State Parks’ grants manager to assist the group in obtaining funding.

The organization would like to develop a string of botanic gardens throughout Sussex County, all having different themes and features.

“We want to grow one garden first; we don’t want to get in over our heads,” Zajic said.

At the top of the list would be a garden near the coast where, Zajic said, there’s a semitropical microclimate.

“Several varieties of palms and tree ferns grow well there,” he said.

Zajic said he’s been working for about a decade on developing a botanic garden in southern Delaware and has presented the idea to Sussex County Council. “They were politely indifferent,” Zajic said.

He said many don’t realize botanic gardens attract thousands of visitors who spend money in and around communities that have them.

“Botanic gardens deserve the backing of the whole community,” Zajic said.

The group elected a board of directors, choosing Zajic as president, and began developing the organization’s vision, mission and values.

The organization is working on becoming incorporated, and is also considering becoming a tax-exempt nonprofit organization.

Zajic said there’s a lot of excitement about starting the garden, and the organization's membership jumped from 47 a few weeks ago to now more than 100.

“I have a feeling it’s going to go fast. But we’re going to need lots of talent and lots of goodwill,” he said.

The organization’s next event will be a forum with Holly Shimizu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. Shimizu will speak at the Lewes Public Library, 10 a.m., Sunday, April 29.

The organization will use email to distribute information and news. The website is under construction and nearing completion. The web address will be

There’s a $40 annual fee to become a voting member of the organization, but the group welcomes participants who choose not to be voting members.

For additional information about Southern Delaware Botanic Gardens, email the group’s outreach coordinator, Val Ellenberger, at

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