Pictured are (from left) Melinda Zoehrer, assistant director, UD Botanic Gardens; Mark Rieger, dean, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Ken Darsney, state horticulturist, Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs; and John Frett, director of UDBG and professor of landscape horticulture.

Governor's garden

UD Botanic Gardens selected as partner for Woodburn Garden Project

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1:22 p.m., Dec. 17, 2013--Some say a rose by any other name is just a rose; a gordlinia by any other name, however, is far from just another gordlinia. During this season of giving, University of Delaware Botanic Gardens’ (UDBG) own gordlinia, a rare tree characterized by large “fried egg” white flowers and deep maroon fall foliage, has been donated to the Woodburn Garden Project as plans unfold to establish the historic grounds at Woodburn, the governor’s residence in Dover, as a public garden. 

UDBG has been selected as one of several official partners for the project, which is being coordinated in two phases by Delaware’s Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

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Landscape architect Rodney Robinson, a UD alumnus who hails from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, heard about the plant this September through a colleague at work and visited UDBG to purchase the unique species, which is a hybrid between two native trees (Franklinia and Gordonia).

When he later became involved with plans for phase one of the Woodburn Garden Project at the home of Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, Robinson knew the gordlinia was the “last piece of the puzzle.” A call to Melinda Zoehrer, assistant director of UDBG, followed quickly to see if the botanic gardens would be interested in donating the tree to what will one day be a popular garden focal point in the Dover area. 

Ken Darsney, state horticulturist for Delaware’s Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, visited campus recently to secure the tree, which has wowed many by its beauty and rarity. “The gordlinia will be used during phase one of the planting,” he said. “We are going to interpret the garden from different angles to tell stories. It has been a lot of work, but we are happy. Phase two will be a formal garden located in the back of the residence.” 

“The Woodburn Garden Project is an important way for our students and faculty to help tell the state’s botanical story,” said Mark Rieger, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “We are particularly honored to have been asked to contribute to this important effort and look forward to our continued partnership.” 

A formal ribbon-cutting for the garden is slated for spring 2014 at Woodburn. Woodburn has served as the official residence of the governor of Delaware since it was purchased by the state in 1965. The Georgian mansion is considered to be one of the finest examples of late-18th century architecture in Delaware. 

The house was built by Charles Hillyard III around 1798. Hillyard bought the land at a sheriff’s sale for 546 pounds, 4 shillings and six-pence in 1784. At the time of purchase, the estate measured approximately 29 acres and was located outside the town limits of Dover. 

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