Behind the scenes

Guests can tour Delaware Botanic Gardens with famed designer

The future is growing in Dagsboro as the Delaware Botanic Gardens takes bloom.

People are being invited to a rare opportunity to visit the garden and meet world-renowned garden designer Piet Oudolf at a “Sip & Saunter” through the DBG’s Meadow Garden on Friday, May 4, from 3 to 5 p.m.

The Dutch designer will return to Dagsboro to oversee the second stage of meadow planting before touring the garden with guests on May 4.

“I think he’s going to be sauntering through the garden,” said DBG Executive Director Sheryl Swed, “and I think people will have the opportunity to at least say hello to him and thank him and ask him questions.”

The meadow is just one section of the 37-acre site, including woodlands, ADA-accessible trails, Pepper Creek waterfront and a future visitor center, pavilion, outdoor classrooms, demonstration gardens, special-event site and more. All of it is hidden on Piney Neck Road, about 1.5 miles from Main Street in Dagsboro.

“Not many people have ever seen the birth of a botanic garden in the first stage of development,” said Ray Sander, DBG president. “This is truly a rare behind-the-scenes preview of what will become a wonderful experience for both locals and visitors.”

“The gardens are being built from scratch by Delmarva professionals and volunteers,” organizers emphasized.

Oudolf is famed for designing meadow gardens worldwide, including the High Line in Manhattan, Millennium Park in Chicago, The Battery in Manhattan, Trentham Gardens in the U.K. and many more.

“The whole layout is [designed] so that people can meander and walk through the garden,” Oudolf said during the first planting of 17,000 plants last September. “Every turn is a different perspective. … You want people to feel like they discovered something.”

Wide pathways curve through the 1.5-acre meadow, clearly delineating the controlled mass of plants. The overall arrangement is shaped rather like the symbols for “8” or “&.”

Piet Oudolf’s work can be viewed online at

Volunteers will be planting for the next few weeks, and Oudolf will return to review the plantings, make edits and continue sculpting the other features, such as large mounds that offer elevated views of the landscape.

“We’re going to be planting 24,000 plants. It’s amazing, isn’t it? And then we’re going to plant 28,000 at the end of June,” said Swed. “The meadow will be totally planted by the end of June. We’re excited about that.”

Spring has sprung in the garden, as plants stretch out of the soil.

“I think three days ago, [we] were out there and almost nothing. We were out there today, and things are starting to pop! It’s really amazing. By the time Piet gets here, all the plants will be much bigger. They’re not huge, but they’re beautiful.”

Toads, salamanders, frogs and crayfish have already made homes in the constructed wetland. Butterflies have been lunching in the meadow since Day 1.

Tickets to the May 4 event cost $200 each and include beer by event sponsor Dogfish Head; freshly shucked oysters by Chesapeake & Maine; and hors d’oeuvres by Touch of Italy. Wine will also be available.

Guests also get a copy of the 2018 spring issue of Garden Design magazine, featuring an article on the DBG and Oudolf.

Guests should dress for the weather and consider sunscreen, bug spray and appropriate footwear.

“People will be able to walk the meadow, they’ll be able to see down to the [outdoor] classroom, they’ll be able to see a feature called the Folly Garden with 20,000 bulbs … and the eastern part of the woodlands,” Swed said.

“We’re going to have a lot of fun. I think everyone’s going to be excited, because we have a lot of people who worked on this project coming.”

Tickets and details are available at Guests may also text or call Sheryl Swed at (202) 262-9856 or email for details.

Delaware Botanic Gardens is located at 30220 Piney Neck Road, Dagsboro.

Ultimately, the 70,000 meadow plants will cost more than $300,000.

“So we’re trying to raise money to make sure we can do other things after the meadow is finished. We need help from people to support [that],” she said.

Fundraising is on ongoing mission, and people can help the gardens open and thrive by sending donations, becoming members or volunteering. Donations can be sent via or to Delaware Botanic Gardens; P.O. Box 1390; Ocean View, DE 19970.

There are many opportunities for one-time donations, continuing pledges, sponsorships and naming opportunities. In fact, the Dogfish Head outdoor classroom is under construction.

They’ve been working for every grant possible, from the Longwood Foundation’s $750,000 to the recent Delaware Urban & Community Forestry Grant of $5,000.

The Delaware Botanic Gardens is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

By Laura Walter
Staff Reporter