The Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek is hoping for a radically different summer this year than last.
It had opened only six months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and its first summer was marked with mask and social distancing mandates, as cases rose and fell.
Now, with relaxed mask mandates and real estate agents predicting the summer sun will pull record numbers of people to Delaware beaches, the Dagsboro attraction celebrating the coastal plain is ready to offer visitors a great day trip.
“We think this gives people another great outdoor venue to check out during their visit to the beach,” says Brent Baker, spokesman for the Delaware Botanic Gardens. “It’s just another alternative to the sun and sand and gives people a reason to come further inland. It’s a chance to be completely immersed in nature and just serves as an escape for a lot of people.”
Encompassing more than 37 acres, including 1,000 feet of tidal waterfront on scenic Pepper Creek, this southern Delaware gem features a host of activities and interactive programs. They include walking tours, educational classes, children’s activities, several different gardens and displays and much more.
The space is divided between plateau, woodlands and the tidal waterfront on Pepper Creek.
A new observation platform has also recently been built, allowing visitors to walk out and over the wetlands to better observe the many varieties of wildlife that call the area home. Wildlife that’s prevalent includes many varieties of birds, as well as butterflies, dragonflies and a few different types of wild animals.
On-site gardens include the Meadow Garden, the Woodland Garden, the Freshwater Pond and Gardens, the Great Lawn and several more.
The Meadow Garden was designed by Piet Oudolf, a Dutch landscape designer known for gardens he’s created in both Chicago and New York. The area features about 70,000 native plants and grasses.
Guided tours are offered throughout the week and are available by contacting the Gardens directly either by phone at 302-321-9061 or via private message at www.delawaregardens.org.
“We love when people come out for a visit and leave feeling happy and saying what a great time they had,” says Baker. “It’s like they have a renewed energy after they visit, like they’ve turned off the modern world and just communed with nature.”
Some of the hidden gems of the Gardens, according to Baker, include the vernal pools that often fill up with rain, the two miles of winding trails, the 12 acres of natural woodlands and the chance to see bald eagles in flight at certain times throughout the year.
The site also has huge bird nests spaced out through the woodlands. They are great landscape elements, but also offer shelter for all kinds of animals.
“I had a kid ask me one time where Big Bird was,” Baker recalls with a chuckle. “They come back time and time again to see those and they always seem happier after their visit.”
The Gardens sit on land that used to be an old soybean field but is now leased by the group via a 99-year lease from the Sussex County Land Trust (SCLT). The cost is $1 per year for property valued at $1.3 million.
“In keeping with the overall mission of the SCLT, the Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek will enable us to pass on the best of our values to the next generation,” SCLT Chair Dennis Forney said during the construction of the gardens.
For more, go to www.delawaregardens.org.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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