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Planting Auburn Heights

UD landscape architecture students, Master Gardeners conduct planting at Delaware’s newest state park

The Delaware Landscape Architecture (DELA) student club at the University of Delaware and members of Cooperative Extension’s Delaware Master Gardeners in New Castle County spent time on Friday, May 12, conducting a planting at Auburn Heights Preserve in order to enhance the curb appeal of Delaware’s newest state park and also give the students a hands-on learning opportunity.

Maggie Heffernan, a junior landscape architecture major who started DELA in the fall of 2016, said that members of the club worked with the Master Gardeners a few weeks prior to the event to map out where they wanted to plant and to get a sense of what officials at Auburn Heights wanted out of the planting.

“We just did a big spread of annual plantings in the front area for this coming season,” said Heffernan. “We’re not doing any perennial plantings because they don’t want anything that’s going to stay in the ground because we’re hoping to work with Auburn Heights next year in our senior design class to actually make a master plan for them.”

Heffernan said that it was a great experience to work at Auburn Heights as well as with the Master Gardeners.

“It was really beneficial for both our students and the Master Gardeners because we got to see different perspectives. A lot of them know a lot more about horticulture than most of our students do so it was nice to see that balance because we know more of the design part. It was nice to work with them that way,” said Heffernan.

Carrie Murphy, extension agent and the lawn and garden program leader, said that it’s a good fit for the students to work with the Master Gardeners.

“The Master Gardeners have been delighted to partner and work with the bachelor of landscape architecture (BLA) faculty, students, and our community partners. We look forward to continuing to work together at Auburn Heights, and to additional opportunities to provide community assistance together in the future,” said Murphy.

Laura Lee, park superintendent for the Auburn Heights Preserve, said that the planting was designed to help “immediately beautify the front of the mansion and give it some curb appeal because it is becoming increasingly more popular as a rental venue. We want to book weddings out here and we really wanted people to pull in the drive way and have that wow effect as they came in.”

Lee said that the annuals the students planted look great and that they give an immediate boost to the appeal of the property.

“The annuals will look brighter more quickly so it looks great. It really makes a difference,” said Lee, who added that these types of partnerships make a world of difference to a park like Auburn Heights.

“As a state agency, we’re always under a budget crunch. A project like this might fall by the wayside in favor of just keeping the doors open, so we rely on partnerships to make all of our parks affordable, safe and beautiful for all of Delaware residents,” said Lee. “This partnership enabled us to do something that we might not normally have been able to do on our own and I think it gives the students a real-world experience. It really helped them understand how a real landscape architect might operate in the context of an actual living site.”

Sue Barton, professor and extension specialist in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), said that in addition to the senior capstone course, BLA program is hoping to collaborate more with Auburn Heights in the future.

“It’s a really neat facility and there’s a lot of opportunity to do something nice there. It’s a beautiful old home, there are a lot of grounds, and there were some really interesting gardens,” said Barton.

Anna Wik, assistant professor of landscape architecture, said that this is the exact type of community partnership that the professors had in mind when the BLA program began.

"It has been great working with Laura Lee over the past few years to inventory existing plant material along with David Nemeth, an agriculture and natural resources major, and I look forward to working with landscape architecture students and Linda Walczak of Tend Landscape Architecture, this fall to create a master plan for the site,” said Wik.

Wik added that “As plans to adapt buildings associated with industry in the Yorklyn area develop, sites like Auburn Heights have the opportunity to educate people about these industries and a fascinating time period in Delaware's history. In addition, the master gardeners are a great resource for the students and a joy to work with. We are in discussions about piloting a student/master gardener partnership that expands on the existing 'Expert Eye' program to provide non-profit and municipal partners planting, hardscape and design advice."

About Auburn Heights

Auburn Heights is a partnership between Delaware State Parks and the Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve. On the property is the Marshall Steam Museum, which has the largest operating collection of Stanley Steamer cars in the world, a growing trails system and a miniature railroad that runs around the property.

For more information on Auburn Heights, visit the website

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