Public Gardens Taking Root in Sussex County

The first phase of the gardens, made possible by a Longwood Foundation grant, will occupy a 37.5-acre plot in Dagsboro.

Residents of Northern Delaware have easy access to a wide variety of public gardens, including Chanticleer, Longwood Gardens and Mt. Cuba Center. That’s not the case for those in Sussex County. But the Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek is one step closer to changing that.

In December, the nonprofit received a Longwood Foundation grant to start the first phase of the gardens, which will occupy a 37.5-acre plot in Dagsboro leased for $1 a year from the Sussex Land Trust. The site offers a range of topography. “It has the brackish water of Pepper Creek, the 12.5-acre woodlands and then uplands with a freshwater feature,” says Raymond Sander, vice president of the board of directors of the Delaware Botanic Gardens. 

Phase One includes installation of basic infrastructure: stormwater management, pipes and electricity. It also includes creation of two venues: the Meadow Gardens and the Woodland Gardens. The former is designed by Piet Oudolf, whose projects include the High Line and Battery Park in New York and Lurie Garden in Chicago. Wilmington landscape architect Rodney Robinson, who Sander calls the “rock star of our region,” is helping to refine the site, which will feature native plants and noninvasive ornamental plants that can survive the climate. The gardens will serve as an outdoor classroom for students and adults.

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Though the Longwood Foundation provided an immediate $500,000 of the $750,000 grant toward the completion of this phase, the group must raise $500,000 on its own to receive the remaining $250,000. The challenge expires on March 25, 2017. To learn more, visit

“See what we’re doing,” Sander says. “We want people to join us as members. We don’t give tote bags or pens, but members know that they are helping to create this wonderful public garden in Delaware.” 

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