Milestone met: Botanic Gardens hits Longwood goal early

DBG organizers proved their mettle with donations and a bunch of multi-year pledges.It’s a garden party unlike any other. The Delaware Botanic Gardens haven’t opened their gates yet, but they’re making big strides as they create southern Delaware’s first garden attraction.

Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: First Lady Carla Markell, left, spends time with Sheryl Swed at the annual Farm Dinner at Good Earth Market on Sept. 15. The event helped raise funds for the Delaware Botanic Gardens.Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: First Lady Carla Markell, left, spends time with Sheryl Swed at the annual Farm Dinner at Good Earth Market on Sept. 15. The event helped raise funds for the Delaware Botanic Gardens.They had a big meal and big announcements at the annual Farm Dinner, hosted Sept. 15 at Good Earth Market in Clarksville.

Organizers announced that they’ve surpassed their most recent fundraising goals six months early, according to Raymond Sander, DBG vice president.

Last winter, the Longwood Foundation agreed to donate up to $750,000 (that’s $500,000 upfront, plus another $250,000 when DBG raises another $500,000).

The Delaware Botanic Garden met their matching goal by raising a half-million dollars by the night of the Farm Dinner, although they had until March of 2017 to meet Longwood’s deadline.

“We felt we really needed to go full-blast and use the Longwood Foundation grant as a spur [to fundraise],” Sander said. “It’s really a wonderful demonstration of how much enthusiasm and local support we have of the project.”

“So it was creative philanthropy,” Sander said.

Donations are coming from Delaware and from major cities, including Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

“We’ve been very blessed. We haven’t gotten as much from the southern side of Delmarva,” so they’re reaching out to the locals who will enjoy this garden in their hometown. “We wanted to make it a resource for the entire Delmarva Peninsula,” Sander said.

The Farm Dinner put them over the hump, with Chuck Coltman’s $10,000 challenge, which inspired the other 200 guests to give another $21,000.

The Delaware Botanic Garden will be located on Dagsboro’s Piney Neck Road, a 37-acre site that includes farmland and woodland, leading to a hidden landscape of the Pepper Creek shoreline.

The coastal garden will include native plants, ponds, pathways, a gift shop, children’s areas, a visitor center, pavilions and more. It’s designed to be a true destination.

Garden organizers have begun sketching the garden in more solid lines as the designs become more concrete. For instance, celebrated garden designer Piet Oudolf has submitted plans for a 2.5-acre meadowland.

“It’s an amazing display of perennial plantings. It’ll be thousands of plants,” Sander said. “I think it’s going to be a breathtaking array.”

“We sacrificed a little of our speed to improve what our deliverable product will be for our visitors,” Sanders said of the decision to push the opening date back another year, with groundbreaking this winter, then partial opening in 2018.

“We’re after a coastal plain garden that’s going to celebrate the [native plants] and put it in a more naturalistic setting, using Piet Oudolf’s garden as kind of a crown jewel,” to prove that a garden can be great, using very little fertilizer, Sander said.

Designers are keeping the same balance of organic and man-made features, from the sweeping curves of the meadowland to the relaxed, but clean, lines of the buildings and pavilions. Even the parking lots are interspersed with small waterways and bridges to place elegance over the utility of stormwater drainage.

“[It’s a] very, very sophisticated and elegant plan. We have evolved … and I like to think every iteration is an improvement,” with more contributors each time. “It’s just a great combination of the dreamers and the reality people.”

Other headlining names have added their talents to the project, including Ted Flato of the Lake/Flato architecture firm, Delaware’s own Rodney Robinson as landscape architect and Delaware First Lady Carla Markell leading the advisory council.

The next round of fundraising will begin for the Oudolf meadow, and organizers hope the effort will take on momentum from his world-acclaimed meadows, such as the High Line in Manhattan, N.Y., and Millennium Park in Chicago.

Contributions can be sent online or by mail. People can get in on the ground floor of the project by volunteering or selecting memberships, one-time gifts, installments or special naming opportunities.

Meanwhile, the DBG wintertime gardening lecture series begins Saturday, Sept. 24, with Donald Pell’s 10 a.m. lecture, “Embracing the Regional Landscape” at the South Coastal Library.

Details are online at