Delaware nature-lovers share their favorite places to enjoy summer in the state

June 27, 2012 under Cooperative Extension

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time. — John Lubbock

Officially, June 20 was the first day of summer, even though the unofficial signs of the season — flip flops, hammocks, water ice — blossomed weeks ago. For most of us, the workaday routine means we’re stuck inside a lot more than we’d like. When the weekend rolls around, we’re itching to get outside.

So where should we spend our precious free hours? We asked area birders, entomologists, horticulturalists and other nature-lovers about their favorite places to enjoy summer in Delaware.

Here’s what they told us:

Nature with a side of history 

My favorite spot is Brandywine Springs Park, which was an amusement park in the early 20th century and is now a county natural area.  I enjoy the sound of the water rushing through Hyde Run, a tributary of the Red Clay Creek, as I take long walks among the old trees. Since I am a history buff and a member of Friends of Brandywine Springs, I especially like the historical aspect of walking the old boardwalk area. Spending a few hours taking in the sights and sounds there refreshes me.

Eileen Boyle, horticulturalist, Hagley Museum

Flitting dragonflies

I enjoy Millstone Pond in White Clay Creek State Park. There is a small rock outcrop overlooking the pond and a nice place to sit in the shade on a sultry summer afternoon contemplating of the world around — dragonflies coursing over the pond, birds in the trees, wild flowers blooming. Just outside Delaware in Caroline County, Md., is Idylwild Wildlife Management Area. When I want to see many rare dragonflies and damselflies native to the Delmarva Peninsula that is where I go. However, one may need to suffer to be rewarded. One needs to bring water, be willing to hike a ways, and carry insect repellant.

Hal White, University of Delaware professor and author of “Natural History of Delmarva: Dragonflies and Damselflies”

A riot of blooms 

In summer, I love the rainbow of blooms in the Color Trial Garden at UD’s Botanic Gardens. Mid- to late July, it’s probably at its peak. Commercial seed companies rely on trial gardens such as this one to provide unbiased feedback about new varieties. For the public, the garden provides a sneak peek at more than a hundred yet-to-be-introduced varieties of annuals and perennials. It’s not uncommon to see people wandering through the trial garden with pencil and paper in hand to write down their favorites.

Valann Budischak, volunteer and education coordinator, UD Botanic Gardens

Cool running 

I run a lot at White Clay Creek State Park but recently I also have been working out at Lums Pond.  Especially in the summer, it is really nice to run (or walk) near a body of water. Even if you aren’t in the water, the sight and sound of water is cooling. As to plants I enjoy now, Delaware is mostly green at this point. Ferns are probably the prettiest vegetation in the summer.

Sue Barton, triathlete and UD Cooperative Extension specialist in ornamental horticulture

Sunset on the water

I like canoeing up the headwaters of Haven Lake, outside of Milford, from a public boat ramp off Williamsville Road. It features narrow channels and small islands and teems with birds, beavers, dragonflies and damselflies. You can even see insectivorous sundew and pitcher plants. Sunset is my favorite time to be on the water.

Jason Beale, manager, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Milford

A park that’s got it all

I like to go to Bellevue State Park because as a family it meets all our needs. Bellevue has gardens, nature trails, meadows, a pond, playgrounds, horses, community vegetable garden plots and more. My daughter, Teagan, is almost 3 years old and she likes the diversity of so many different things to look at. She is just fascinated by the horses. I jog on the trails and I also like to check out the garden plots. Many Master Gardeners have plots at Bellevue and I love to see what people are growing and how they are growing it.

Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension

Biking the by-ways

I moved to Delaware in January so I still consider myself new to the state. I enjoyed Cape Henlopen many times before I moved here and now I’m making new discoveries. On summer weekend mornings, I have found that the scenic by-ways following the Red Clay and Brandywine creeks are surprisingly quiet and great for road biking.  Traveling by bike, you see so much more of the creeks, historic homes, fields and forests than when traveling by car.

Brian Winslow, executive director, Delaware Nature Society 

Woodpecker and eagle hang-out 

My favorite place at Hagley is the area that extends from the steam engine display to the boat house. The view of the iron bridge, the Brandywine, the dam and the woods is spectacular. You may even see an eagle flying over the river or our pair of pileated woodpeckers feeding in the large maple next to the boat house.

Richard Pratt, supervisor of gardens and grounds, Hagley Museum 

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily


Landscape consultant to discuss ‘Design for the Nature of Today’s Garden’

March 27, 2012 under CANR News

The nature of gardening today is much different than it was a generation ago. More households have two working parents who have less time and inclination to prune regularly and pull every errant weed. Money is tighter, too, not only for most households but for most municipalities.

Homeowners can’t spend a lot on chemical fertilizers and herbicides or new trees and shrubs. Likewise, local and state governments can’t devote much money or time to maintaining parks and natural areas.

Rick Darke doesn’t see anything bleak in this picture; rather he chooses to focus on the opportunities that exist in contemporary gardening.

“There has never been a more interesting or exciting time to be involved in the design of outdoor spaces,” says Darke, a University of Delaware alumnus who heads a Pennsylvania-based landscape consulting firm. His books include The American Woodland Garden and The Wild Garden: Expanded Edition. 

“There has been a sea change in how we approach our green spaces,” adds Darke. “This new trend embraces the dynamic nature of living landscapes and identifies conservation, functionality and viability as primary goals.”

Darke will talk about “Design for the Nature of Today’s Garden” on Tuesday, April 10, at UD’s Townsend Hall. Sponsored by the UD Botanic Gardens, the lecture is a kick-off event for the gardens’ spring plant sale, which is open to the public April 27-28.

Darke, who with his wife, Melinda Zoehrer, gardens on 1.5 acres in Landenberg, Pa., points to his own yard to illustrate how his approach to landscape design and stewardship has evolved over the years.

For example, he has become better at choosing the “right plant for the right place.” A dozen or so years ago, he planted native sweet bay magnolias in his back yard, which adjoins the White Clay Creek Preserve. Deer from the preserve quickly discovered these magnolias and rubbed the fragrant bark to the point that the trees wouldn’t have survived another season. Darke transplanted the magnolias to the front yard, which the deer tend to avoid. Although he solved his problem, he wasted valuable time.

“Melinda and I are busy with work, travel and socializing,” says Darke. “We don’t have endless time to devote to the garden.”

These days, he carefully considers site selection. A smart choice, in his opinion, was a stand of tall, warm-season grasses that he placed on the edge of the property. The grasses serve as a privacy screen while also providing habitat for wildlife.

To save both time and money, Darke lets the wind, water, birds and animals dictate — through seed dispersal — what new plants get added to his yard. He still buys plants but more often he enjoys these seedlings that arrive spontaneously.

“We have a group of nearly 30-foot-tall beeches that originated as seedlings 13 or 14 years ago,” notes Darke. “People don’t realize how fast a seedling can grow. In six years, a beech seedling can become a 12-foot-tall tree.”

Of course, you might not be thrilled with where the wind dropped your new beech tree — perhaps it’s growing between flagstone pavers or in front of your prized red-twig dogwood. That’s where judicious editing comes in, notes Darke. Feel free to transplant seedlings to different locations in your yard and to give away excess seedlings.

In the Darke and Zoehrer yard, the long list of “free plants” acquired by seed dispersal or self-seeding and sporing include viburnum, beech, sassafras, oaks, silver bells, spicebush, asters, ferns and dogwood.

The economic benefits of utilizing existing vegetation are even greater on large tracts of land. Currently, Darke is consulting on a project that will convert a Pittsburgh brownfield and abandoned steel mill, Carrie Furnace, into a mixed-use residential and commercial development.

“This 400-acre property has thousands of self-sown native sycamores and cottonwood,” notes Darke. “Any one of these 20- to 50-foot trees would cost more than $1,000 to buy. The most environmental approach is to allow these trees and other existing plants to form the backbone of the site’s new landscape.”

UD Botanic Gardens lecture

Darke’s lecture will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10.  The cost is $15 for the public, $10 for members of the UD Botanic Gardens. For more info go to the UD Botanic Gardens website or call 831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photos by Rick Darke

This article can also be viewed on UDaily


UDBG January Events

January 4, 2012 under CANR News, Events

January isn’t a great time to garden but it is a fantastic time to learn about it. Come join the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens this month for the following events:

“Small Flowering Shrubs” Lecture Series & Lab by UDBG Director and Professor John Frett
Lectures: Wed., Jan. 11, 18, & 25, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Lab: Sat., Jan. 21, 9 – 11 am
Members: $25 per lecture and the lab
Nonmembers: $30 per lecture and the lab

This three-lecture survey of small flowering shrubs will present cultural and landscape characteristics for a variety of evergreen and deciduous plants. The lab will view live plants and discuss more fully their characteristics.

Registration and pre-payment required. Lab is free if registered for all 3 classes. Credit cards will be accepted for this series.  Please indicate your payment method when registering.  If credit, we will contact you for card information. 

“Gardening in Small Spaces” Lecture by Horticulturist, Writer, and Artist Eva Monheim
Tues., Jan. 17, 7 pm
Members: $5     Nonmembers: $10

The trend towards smaller garden spaces does not necessarily translate to a smaller palette of plants and design ideas. Explore the potential for a closer bond with plants and people through inspirational design and creative use of plant materials. Eva will help you to think about developing or tweaking your own special retreat.

UDBG Book Exchange
Book Drop-off:  Mon. – Fri., Jan. 9-13, 9 am – 3 pm in 112 Worrilow Hall
Book Exchange: Tue., Jan. 17, 5 – 7 pm and Wed., Jan. 18, 11 am – 1 pm and 5 – 6:30 pm in the Townsend Hall Commons
Free. All are welcome.

Are you clearing your bookshelves to make way for new acquisitions? Bring us your gently used horticulture, landscape design, soils, etc. books and alternative media. You’ll receive credit toward selecting ‘new’ media at the Friends’ Book Exchange. For more information, contact Caroline Golt at

For additional information on the courses and book exchange visit the UDBG website.   To register for classes, please email or phone 302-831-2531. Send payment to: UDBG, 152 Townsend Hall, University of DE, Newark DE 19716  


Sept. 14: Plant Sale

September 12, 2011 under CANR News

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens has extended its fall plant sale.  The sale, held this past weekend, has added Wednesday, Sept. 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to its hours.  It is open to the University community and the general public.

The sale, which features groundcovers and a host of fabulous fall bloomers, will be held in the production area across from the Fischer Greenhouse, behind Townsend Hall on UD’sCollege of Agriculture and Natural Resources campus.