Milford Community Band plays at
Abbott’s Mill Nature Center
Breathe the fresh air. Enjoy the sunshine. Admire the flowers. Nature has its own way of decorating for an event, one no human hand can match. So when planning your next party, consider the great outdoors. The following places can help.
Abbott’s Mill Nature Center
15411 Abbott’s Pond Road
Two miles southwest of Milford is Abbott’s Mill Nature Center. Set among 150-acres, you’ll find an historic house on the National Register of Historic Places and a barn built in 1905. There’s a nature center, 23-acre pond with canoe rentals available, and a restored gristmill. Best of all, a boardwalk passes over streams and through pine-wooded areas where you’ll find intimate, natural gathering areas.
The barn often serves as a venue for silent auctions, musical performances, educational events and family gatherings. Rest rooms and a small indoor kitchen for catering are also available.
“Most of our guests have an interest in nature, the outdoors and history,” says manager Jason Beale. “We have two meeting rooms that hold 20 people each, where we’ve done corporate retreats. And, weather permitting, the outdoor teaching areas in the woods are great for breakouts and team-building sessions.” Abbott’s Mill is often a meeting destination for state agencies because of its central location.
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
“Anyone who comes to us when planning an event is looking for something unusual or unique,” says Kathy Freney, manager of events and corporate relations for the Delaware Art Museum. “Whether it’s a wedding or a business function, this is an exciting, inspirational place to have an event.”
The seven-acre Copeland Sculpture Garden—one of only two sculpture gardens in Delaware—offers a creative backdrop for outdoor events. Overlooking the sculpture garden is the North Terrace, which may be tented for up to 250 guests. Since the sculpture garden is part of the experience for museum visitors, the only way to have exclusive use is to schedule your affair for after 6 p.m.
The museum has an exclusive relationship with Sodexho, which offers on-site event planning and access to award-winning chefs. “We do the set up and break down for you,” says Freney. “We will work with your vendors or we’re happy to make recommendations.”
For groups of 50 or fewer, the museum offers an unusual and intimate option: the labyrinth. Constructed in a former reservoir area, the labyrinth has been the setting for corporate retreats and team-building activities.
The ritual of slowly walking a labyrinth is thought to provide calm, while walking more briskly helps with focus and concentration. One corporation recently hosted a team-building retreat here with Tai Chi, yoga, labyrinth walking and meditation, and mock sword fighting as part of a storytelling exercise—all geared toward releasing inhibitions and bringing participants closer.
“With our very exciting, changing exhibition schedule, there are also different thematic opportunities for wedding and corporate event planners throughout the year,” says Freney. Galleries may be open to guests, or docent-guided tours may be arranged as part of the event package. Pricing varies. Outdoor events are generally booked from April through October. Interested parties are advised to inquire at least six months in advance.
Delaware State Parks
Delaware State Parks offers easily accessible, affordable options for hosting events in some of the most beautiful natural settings in the state. Choose from the country estate house, historic mansion, or early 19th-century church and home of Bellevue State Park in North Wilmington, an oceanside conference facility in Cape Henlopen State Park (minutes from downtown Lewes), or a meeting space set among the quiet woodlands and wetlands of Fort DuPont State Park. Most facilities can handle up to 120 guests indoors and up to 250 people outdoors, and tents are available. Visit www.destateparks.com for rates and contact information.
Historic Houses of Odessa
The historic accuracy of the restored 18th- and early 19th-century village known as the Historic Houses of Odessa lets visitors step back in time and take a look at one of Delaware’s finest collections of period arts. Set among 20 beautiful acres, the property is a wonderful venue for outdoor celebrations.
“We appeal to the bride who’s looking for something different, not a hotel ballroom or country club,” says executive director Debbie Buckson.
Drawing on her experience planning events at Winterthur, Buckson works directly with her brides. She and her assistant, Jennifer Cabell, handle all on-site event management. Catering is provided by chef Bruce Wetterau of The Granary Restaurant.
“We ask the bride about her ideas, look at her pictures and magazines, and create a wedding to make her dreams come true,” says Buckson. “If it’s only the ceremony she’s interested in, we begin by showing her the garden.”
The bride’s path leads from the terrace of the Corbit-Sharp House to the spectacular garden—a re-creation of Marian Coffin’s garden, restored with plantings lost over time, which blooms in changing colors across three seasons. “When you’re standing in that beautiful garden, overlooking the Appoquinimink Creek, the scenery is idyllic,” Buckson says.
The property offers variety, from the very formal setting around the Corbit-Sharp House to the less formal area around the Fieldstone Stable. The demonstration kitchen’s garden can be tented. “We did an 18th-century wedding for 50 people in the Collins-Sharp building,” says Buckson. “Our interpretive staff prepared all of the hearth-cooked foods using period recipes, tools and techniques.”
The Historic Houses hosts meetings, too. Because these are 18th-century buildings, however, the rooms are smaller and geared toward groups of 50 or fewer. Accommodations may be found at the Hampton Inn, four miles away, and at the Cantwell House bed-and-breakfast in Odessa.
Nassau Valley Vineyards
32165 Winery Way, Lewes
In Sussex County, the beautiful Nassau Valley Vineyards hosts nearly 50 events a year, many of them outdoors. The diverse facilities adapt to the needs of a range of functions, from physician’s events and charity fundraisers to bar mitzvahs and weddings. The Southern plantation style Claret Hall offers seating for 175 guests (or more with tents). The sycamore trees of Bacchus Grove provide natural shelter. The grove is used frequently for weddings of up to 250 guests. A tent pad and side lawn provide additional outdoor options.
Comprehensive facility rental information, a list of preferred vendors for catering, a photo gallery of events past, and information about tours and tastings, is available on line.
Nassau Valley Vineyards, founded by Peggy Raley and her father Bob Raley in 1987, is Delaware’s first commercial and only award-winning vineyard. Reservations are booked at least a year in advance.
Pizzadili Vineyards and Winery
1683 Peach Basket Road, Felton
Weekends are booked from May to October, and it comes as no surprise. When planning a wedding or special event, “I don’t think there’s anything in Kent County that can compare,” says Tony Pizzadili of Pizzadili Vineyards and Winery. “It is a very peaceful place and beautiful countryside that people really enjoy. Words cannot describe. It must be seen to truly be appreciated.” Pizzadili may be the closest thing to experiencing the beauty of an Italian vineyard and countryside without boarding a plane.
Of their 110 acres, 17 are dedicated to the vineyard and another 50 acres are landscaped greenery. Guests will find footpaths meandering by apple trees, peaches and figs, beautiful ponds, fragrant and abundant roses, and animals for the children to meet.
Tony and his brother and partner, Pete, have been catering for 57 years and making wine since they were children. Together they prepare all of the food for events at Pizzadili’s, and they love every minute of it, especially for weddings. “We’re Italian,” says Tony. “Family is everything.”
Pizzadili Vineyards hosts several meetings and business luncheons throughout the year, as well. The banquet hall provides seating for up to 60 guests. The outdoor pavilion can accommodate up to 380. Couples often choose to recite their wedding vows in the gazebo. Elaborate meals served with crystal and china, al fresco, are not uncommon. Souvenir bottles of Delaware Wine and Brothers’ Blend, made from grapes grown on the premises, are available.
Winterthur Museum & Country Estate
5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur
888-4804, or www.winterthur.org
Winterthur has long been a popular wedding destination for brides from New York and Washington, D.C. Now it’s garnering ever-greater popularity since its appearance last year on the TV show, “Whose Wedding Is It, Anyway?”
Winterthur hosts 80 to 100 events each year, so it’s booked at least a year in advance, but it’s always worth a phone call if dates are flexible.
“With 200 acres of landscaped gardens, a beautiful country estate home and magnificent reflecting pool around which to hold wedding ceremonies and cocktail receptions, Winterthur is an absolutely stunning location,” says Joan Johnson, senior events coordinator. “Some weddings have galleries open to guests, and others have open air trams for rides through the estate and gardens. It’s beautiful here, year-round, and we hold weddings here all year long.”
Catering is handled exclusively by Restaurant Associates. Party and wedding packages include tables and chairs, linens, a wedding cake, and a hotel room for bride and groom. Valet parking must be handled by Winterthur due to liability issues, but guests may hire their own musicians, florists and photographers.
Weddings aren’t the only events happening here. Winterthur hosts corporate events, from the typical to the unexpected. One company held a Renaissance-themed event by the reflecting pool, where riders on horseback arrived in period costume. Detailed event planning information is available on the website.