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On Oct. 23, 2014, Gov. and Mrs. Jack Markell celebrated the opening of the redesigned public garden at Woodburn, the governor’s official residence in Dover. The redesign was accomplished through a public/private partnership between the state of Delaware and the non-profit Friends of Woodburn which raised more than $250,000 for the project including a $100,000 matching grant from the Longwood Foundation.
Located at 151 Kings Highway, Woodburn is one of Delaware’s most historic homes and an outstanding example of late-18th-century Georgian architecture. The house was built in 1798 by Charles Hillyard, III (1759–1814), a fourth-generation Delawarean from a family of affluent landowners who were frequently active in the governmental, social and economic life of Kent County. Woodburn has served as the home of Delaware’s governor since it was purchased by the state in 1965. It was listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
The Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs has been responsible for the care and conservation of Woodburn since August 2009. The division’s charge includes repair and maintenance of the building; design and upkeep of the property’s garden and horticultural displays; and furnishing of the home.
Work on Woodburn’s garden complex began in December 2013 as the final segment of a comprehensive exterior-improvements project launched in May of that year. The new complex, designed by landscape architect Rodney D. Robinson of Wilmington, includes a Colonial-inspired parterre garden that will feature a rose-covered arbor that provides the principal point of entry through a six-foot-tall evergreen hedge. Once inside, visitors encounter four square-beds, separated by brick and crushed-shell paths. Each bed is edged in boxwood and planted with a single crabapple tree, mixed ground covers and spring bulbs. A small pool with fountain serves as a focal point at the center of the garden. While colonists had no water to spare for pools and fountains, their inclusion at Woodburn adds character and ambiance to the space.
The parterre garden is framed on three sides by large planting-borders of seasonally flowering shrubs and perennials. At the corner nearest the house is a small wooden pavilion set within the border. This location affords a dramatic view of the garden, while providing a convenient and more private entrance from Woodburn. Beyond the parterre garden is the kitchen garden with vegetables, herbs and fruit trees. Woodburn’s redesigned garden includes several rare plants and trees donated by the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens.
In addition to the garden redesign, improvements to Woodburn included enhanced accessibility for people with disabilities; upgrades for pedestrian- and vehicular-safety including repair and/or replacement of sidewalks and driveways; installation of lighting; and infrastructure enhancements to the property’s electrical and storm-water-management systems. These improvements have helped to unify Woodburn’s campus making it a better home for current and future residents and an even better asset for guests, public visitors and the city of Dover’s historic district.