Bayside Glories

One neighborhood, two very different gardens and landscapes: Here’s how a single designer achieved appropriate—and gorgeous—looks for each unique home.

The fishpond at Marvin Rothman’s home can be enjoyed from the balcony and the patio. Photograph by John LewisSituated on 350 acres west of Del. 1, Kings Creek hardly looks like a beach neighborhood, despite its Rehoboth address and its proximity to the bay. The spacious houses would look at home in a tony Connecticut suburb, or the rolling hills around Atlanta, or maybe on a Kentucky horse farm.

Credit the diversity of styles. A Colonial might stand next to an updated farmhouse. A contemporary might sit next to a Cape Cod. No two are seemingly alike, and neither are the landscape designs.

Rick Cordrey is partially responsible for the floral diversity. Cordrey and his wife, Valery, own East Coast Garden Center and RSC Landscaping in Millsboro, which have between 40 and 50 Kings Creek homeowners as clients.

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Though the designs differ, Rick Cordrey’s touch is frequently evident. He’s fond of plants that tweak the traditional. Consider Knock Out roses, touted as being the most disease-resistant roses on the market, and Encore azaleas, which bloom in spring, summer and fall.

A look at the home of David and Denise Sills and the home of Marvin Rothman demonstrates Cordrey’s ability to create a distinctive design for each while integrating common trends.

Color, for instance, is abundant at both properties. At their New England-style cedar shake home, the Sillses put their passion front and center. In spring, Cordrey planted about 1,600 New Guinea impatiens in one-gallon pots in front of the home. Installation, which requires a gas-powered auger, must be completed before the Preakness race in May, when the Sillses host an annual party. Come fall, Cordrey replaces the plants with cool-weather combinations such as pansies, ornamental cabbage and kale.

It’s clearly not an inexpensive endeavor, but Denise Sills says the rewards are worth the investment. “We get so many compliments,” she says. “And if we don’t do it, we wonder, ‘What’s wrong with the house?’” Indeed, the river of color suits the stately home, which is distinguished by a turret, peaked roofs and a balcony atop the railed porch.

For the warm weather, Cordrey chose a type of New Guinea impatiens that can withstand sun along with the usual shade. Sills leaves the color choice up to Cordrey, who leans toward purple and pink. But Sills, who loves the Fourth of July, one year requested a small bed of red, white and blue wave petunias.

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About 1,600 New Guinea impatiens brighten the Sills’ front yard during the summertime. Photograph by John LewisThe landscape also features Knock Out roses. “It’s the most awesome plant there is,” Cordrey says. “It will bloom April through November nonstop, and there’s no disease or insect issues.” Sills is considering replacing her regular roses, which are magnets for beetles, with Knock Out varieties.

Other repeat bloomers include Encore azaleas and hydrangea from the Endless Summer Collection, whose flowers bloom on both old and new wood, so homeowners can stop worrying about when is the right time to trim the bushes.

While the garden is peppered with cutting-edge plants, it also boasts the familiar, including spirea and crepe myrtle—also known as crape myrtle—which is one of the most popular plantings at the beach. “They call it the 100-day plant, because it’s 100 days from the first flower that appears to the last one that falls off,” Cordrey says.

Because the Sillses built their house 10 years ago, they shaped their own landscape. Marvin Rothman, however, purchased his home in Kings Creek. Though the previous owners had spared no expense on the interior—which has a movie theater and 10 fireplaces, including one outdoors—they were too busy managing three homes to pay as much attention to the landscaping.

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Rothman longed for the fishpond that he’d had at his New Jersey home, so Cordrey installed one next to the house. Rothman can enjoy it while standing on the 2,000-square-foot wraparound balcony or while sitting the patio beneath the balcony.

The natural-looking water feature is framed and accented with big rocks, little rocks, flat rocks and a profusion of plantings, including a lime-green evergreen groundcover called Creeping Jenny. “It can take full sun, partial sun and full shade,” Cordrey says. “And it’s a perennial that can be aquatic—so it’s perfect.”

Other pond-area plants include water lettuce, parrot feather, water hyacinth, water lilies and bromeliads. “It’s unbelievable how they’ve matured,” Rothman says of the plants—and the 25 to 30 fish. “I love just watching them. The best thing we did was put in that pond.”

Steps from the pond is an isolated patio with a fireplace that the old owners left unadorned in an open space. To create a focal point, Cordrey made the patio a repository for lush and tropical plants, including croton, whose striped leaves change color as they mature; Sun Parasol, a new varietal that is a mandevilla-dipladenia hybrid; the bushy foxtail fern, which looks a bit like green dreadlocks; and duckfoot ivy.

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Marvin Rothman’s fishpond is accented with plantings such as Creeping Jenny, water lettuce, parrot feather, water hyacinth, water lilies and bromeliads. Photograph by John LewisAt the beach, tropicals are becoming the new annual. Hibiscus, palms and leafy banana plants are installed in pots so owners can take them inside if they wish. Cordrey, who has about 50 tropical plants at his own house, often stores tropical plants in winter for his customers.

Though not far from Del. 1, Rothman still feels like he’s in a rural wonderland. “I saw a bullfrog that was a foot long and an enormous snake,” he says. “I see foxes walking down the golf trail almost every day.”

The golf cart trail gave the backyard a stunted appearance compared with the grandeur of the Southern-style home. To draw the eye to a distant focal point, Cordrey cut into the poison ivy-laden woods behind the trail and built a 160-foot, undulating retaining wall topped with plantings.

Cordrey also carved out space from the woods to create a border garden on the property’s right side. “We put in 250 to 300 perennials, just about any variety we could think of,” Cordrey says, including yellow variegated salvia, yellow coneflowers, and late-blooming coreopsis. “We wanted you to see different things at different times of year,” Cordrey says.

Rothman is thrilled with the results. “When we lived in New Jersey, we had an award-winning landscape,” he says. “This is even better.”

Get The Look

  • Landscape and garden nursery owners Rick and Valery Cordrey are both “plant crazy,” Rick says. They regularly attend industry shows and bring the latest varieties back to the Millsboro nursery to grow. “We’re a couple of years ahead of the box stores,” he says. These trends were early discoveries that now wow his customers.
  • Knock Out roses: They bloom from spring until frost and are touted as easy to grow with good disease resistance.
  • Re-Blooming azaleas: Encore and Debut both offer azaleas that bloom in spring, summer and fall. They do well at the beach, but some garden centers in Wilmington are still skeptical about how well they do in northern Delaware.
  • Re-Blooming hydrangeas: The Endless Summer and Let’s Dance plant series boasts hydrangeas that bloom throughout the season—not just in June—and bloom on old or new wood. 


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