The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG) traces its roots back to the late 1950’s with the planting of specimen trees and shrubs around Agriculture Hall (now Townsend Hall) at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). These early plantings initially supported student coursework and have evolved over time into gardens that serve the UD community and broader public. With a donation from Emily Clark Diffenback, the garden in front of Townsend Hall was formally established in 1973 and became known as The Emily B. Clark Garden. The garden was intended to be beautiful as well as educational, and contains some of the oldest plant specimens such as the dwarf conifer collection within the UDBG.
The Emily B. Clark Garden was the first of many gardens. The earlier gardens were the result of more than fifty years of independent projects directed at building an outdoor laboratory for student learning. Many notable experts including Dr. Richard Lighty, Dr. Charles Dunham and Mr. William H. Frederick, Jr. worked to assemble the plant collection and organize the horticultural experience for the university and regional community. With the addition of the Herbaceous Garden to the landscape, the name ‘University of Delaware Botanic Gardens’ was adopted in 1992. The enthusiastic group of volunteers who planted and maintained the Herbaceous Garden went on to found UDBG Friends which has over 200 members today. UDBG Friends continues to advocate, fund, and support UDBG. In the 1990’s, Worrilow Hall Garden and a collection of native plants known as the Native Garden were introduced. The Lepidoptera Trail and the Wetland Garden were introduced in the 2000’s.
The Dean of CANR officially recognized UDBG in 2006 and appointed its first Director, Dr. John Frett, and hired its first part-time staff Valann Budischak and Melinda Zoehrer. An Advisory Committee was appointed to review the garden’s progress. Today, the UD Botanic Garden is a series of twelve gardens and plantings on fifteen acres that surround Townsend and Worrilow Halls, Fischer Greenhouse Laboratory, and the general greenhouse complex. The grounds and nursery operations are maintained by one full-time staff member, Horticultural Manager Andrew Adams, hired in 2018, who takes care of the greenhouse operations as well as a team of summer and annual interns. The internship program provides students with the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom to practical situations. The program started in 1992 with the birth of the UDBG Plant Sale. While the plant sale initially funded summer internships, it has grown to fund two non-degreed seeking graduate students for one year as well as one full-time curatorial graduate student for two years. The program has attracted students from across the country as well as internationally.
UDBG is truly a laboratory that provides a link between theory and practice to better ensure the success of our students. Students can observe and participate in research being conducted at UDBG such as the herbaceous trials which have resulted in presentations, publications and the release of two cultivars to the nursery industry. Our extensive woody collections have also facilitated research. The holly collection is recognized as a National Holly Arboretum, the viburnum collection served as the conduit for the development of a research project on the speciation of treehoppers, and several plants were used in a species screening for Asian longhorn beetles by scientists at the USDA Beneficial Insects Research Laboratory. UDBG continues to be used by faculty, students, Green Industry professionals, and the public, and serves a primary role in supporting the CANR programs in horticulture, plant science, entomology, and landscape design. It is often used as an educational setting and source of materials for short courses, workshops, and plant walks. The botanic garden has nearly a 50-year history of educating people about plants and promoting them for generations to enjoy and cherish.