Meet the group that brings the holiday spirit to the Zwaanendael Museum

Images courtesy of the Sussex Gardeners.

Every year, the Sussex Gardeners help bring the holiday spirit to downtown Lewes, including at the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ Zwaanendael Museum

To ensure a clean museum environment, the gardeners only use plant material from area florists for their designs. Also, to keep the floral designs fresh and clean, staff monitor the gardener’s beautiful creations to ensure there is no harm done to any of the historic items or exhibits at the museum.

Learn more about this unique club and why they dedicate their time, efforts and energy to keeping local landmarks beautiful, from the club’s Vice President Dianne Shawley.

Question: Who are the Sussex Gardeners?

Answer: The “Sussex Gardeners” garden club has a very rich history, going back to 1937 with the formation of the Nassau Garden Committee. The Club was renamed 10 years later, and in 1958 the Sussex Gardeners joined the newly formed Delaware Federation of Garden Clubs. The Club continues to bring together members of the Rehoboth Beach and Lewes communities who have an interest in gardening, landscape design, floral design and horticulture. A number of our members are “Master Gardeners,” and many have served as officers at the state and national level of Federated Garden Clubs. The Sussex Gardeners are committed to civic beautification, as well as the conservation and protection of our natural resources. We promote the educational aspect of gardening in youth groups and provide annual scholarships to Delaware Technical Community College and 4-H students to further the study of conservation, environmental protection and horticulture. 

Q: Why and when do you help decorate the Zwaanendael Museum?

A: The floral designs and decorations at the Zwaanendael are created by the Civic Beautification Committee. In keeping with a tradition that has lasted for nearly two decades, the Sussex Gardeners provide holiday decorations inside and outside of the museum in celebration of the “Lewes Open House” in early December. The community can enjoy the decorations for the entire holiday season. The committee also provides spring floral designs and finery for the Zwaanendael Museum during the annual Lewes Tulip Celebration each April.

Q: What’s special about decorating the site for the holidays?

A: The Gardeners’ seasonal designs typically follow a theme that honors the history and heritage of Lewes. Themes from past years include “The Polar Express” (in keeping with the Museum’s train display); “Here Go a Caroling” (displays that showcased holiday music); and last year’s theme of “Sweet Traditions” (imagine a parade of gingerbread ornaments and greenery gracing the banisters!).  We love the process – the planning, the creation, the installation and the opportunity to showcase the many talents of our members. Our participation at the museum furthers our goal of serving the community, while bringing attention to the Sussex Gardeners. The beautiful outdoor wreaths and garlands also attract the public’s attention and draw visitors into the museum. 

Q: What do you wish people knew about Lewes and/or its history?

A (by Zwaanendael Museum Site Manager Bridget Warner): Lewes has a diverse and interesting history that goes far beyond that of being the first town in the First State. Canning, fishing and maritime trades contribute to its rich past. Today, as you walk through town, you can learn about its history while enjoying the beautiful gardens and noteworthy structures that make Lewes a special place.

Q: How can people help the club or learn more?

A: The Sussex Gardeners is a garden club that has withstood the test of time! We are 85 years old this year. We owe our longevity to our willingness to change and grow with the times. We pursue continuing education of our members by bringing in expert speakers on a whole range of topics. We connect to each other through shared experiences: friendship lunches, field trips, community service, teaching each other and “learning by doing.” New members are our lifeblood: They bring in fresh ideas and energy, and that’s what sustains us! We welcome guests to attend one of our meetings and see what we’re all about.

Anyone interested in learning more is encouraged to contact Sussex Gardeners at and visit our “Sussex Gardeners” Facebook group. As we always say, “Gardening is more fun with friends!”

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