This Kennett Square Estate is a Global Model for Sustainability

Landscape architect Margot Taylor's revolutionary residence boasts alternative energy resources, a hut built of hay bales, a storm water conveyance system and so much more.


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Margot Taylor’s Dancing Tree estate is one of just two private residences in the country certified by the Sustainable Sites Initiative.//Photo by Saxon Holt

 

It may be a dream for some—the two-acre subdivision with the charming home and expansive lawn. But it’s a paradigm Margot Taylor says must change. She aims to reduce, rather than tame, turf. “Will someone ever be bold enough to get rid of the front lawn?” she asks.

As part of a worldwide initiative, the Chester County-based landscape architect has made her domestic landscape in Kennett Square a national, accessible model for sustainability and habitat. Taylor’s Dancing Tree estate is one of just two private residences in the country certified by the Sustainable Sites Initiative—essentially a demonstration site for enviro-friendly land-use practices for water, soil and vegetation conservation and management. It’s the only three-star private SITES residence in the world. A close second is in Santa Barbara, Calif.

SITES began in the early 2000s as a response to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEEDS is green-building specific, but it doesn’t do enough for landscapes, says Taylor. A partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Texas and the U.S. Botanic Garden, SITES is designed to transform land development and management practices with the nation’s first voluntary rating system for sustainable landscapes, with or without buildings. “We needed to elevate the landscape to a greater level of importance,” says Taylor, an environmental education specialist. “Otherwise, there was no one thinking about the landscape at all.”

Taylor’s property was once part of a century-old dairy farm on both sides of Creek Road, which was left fallow and without a legacy plan in 1952. Repeated land clearing by grazing cattle or farming implements had compacted and killed the soil. “Annual crop fields today are largely fields of death,” says Taylor. “There was once a 60-cow herd here, but there’s a reason why, in the end, there were no cattle in this field.”

About 75 percent of the plants grown on the property
are native.//Photo by Saxon Holt

Taylor has spent 600 hours and $15,000 to bring her property up to SITES standards. “It’s a different expectation for a residential property owner because of the time and expense,” she says. “I did it because I was a landscape architect who was out of work in 2009, and because I was living in the epicenter of horticulture in the United States, the region with the most botanical gardens and arboretums, trade schools and academic institutions dedicated to horticulture.”

When Taylor spoke at the national convention of the American Society of Landscape Architects in Massachusetts in 2014, she was the lone homeowner among representatives from the parks systems, museums and botanical gardens. “The others dominated,” she says. “At the end, we were sent an assessment of how we were received, and I had the lowest scores of all the speakers. I understand. Residential is not a focus.”

In July, Taylor’s 1.69-acre property, with its 80-foot slope, was featured in a Brandywine Conservancy showcase tour. About 75 percent of the plants grown on her land are native. “Margot’s is one of the most unique places you’ll ever see,” says Nora Sadler, a staff gardener at Brandywine Conservancy, who coordinated the event. “What she’s done is creative and interesting. If I had her landscape with that steep hill, I don’t know what I would’ve done. I admire her creativity—a lot.”

Additional SITES-awarded highlights include alternative energy sources, a state-of-the-art septic system that pumps wastewater back uphill, then redistributes it in drips down slope, extensive storm water management practices, whimsical sculptures, a meditation labyrinth and the Magic Hut, built of hay bales with a green living roof. The roofs on the hut and other outdoor structures absorb rainwater, reduce peak storm water surge and regulate seasonal temperatures. A potting shed is made of upcycled materials. A storm water conveyance system recharges ground water supply, controls storm water surge, and creates aesthetic garden elements and a meadow rain garden habitat. One rescue garden reuses construction materials and saved plants. Other gardens are full of perennials for cutting and culinary herbs.

The Magic Hut and other outdoor structures feature living roofs that absorb rainwater.//Photo by Saxon Holt

Taylor has experimental beds with woodchips and mushroom spores for her hives of honeybees, which consume the secreted juice from mycelium in mushrooms as a rich source of nutrients. She collects and inoculates logs with oyster and turkey tail mushroom spores to build soil health and the underground soil food web. In three of her five rain gardens, she lets whatever’s there grow. The other two are managed.

There are logs everywhere. Some mark pathways through the property that help minimize soil compaction. There are rain barrels hidden in storage sheds. Soil excavated on the property and every stone was repurposed as resource material. “We dug down and dug in,” Taylor says.

She hopes for early snows that help with decomposition. As a management tool, she plants 25 tree seedlings a year to build vertical forest structure and supplement diversity. She’d like more beech and hickory trees; the oaks come in on their own. The shrub layer is boosted by adding native azaleas, blackhaw and mapleleaf viburnum, witch hazel and mountain laurel. The birds bring in the spice bush.

Taylor uses a Colonial-style worm, or zigzag, fence as a frontage border to define her land as a maintained property. She has designed planting for deer browse to keep them at the base of the property, which can hold 5 inches of storm water, as evidenced in her rain gardens that once left a natural bath ring of maple seeds. “Everyone should manage water on site,” she says. “If you own land, that should be part of your responsibility.”

The 1.69-acre estate, with its 80-foot slope, was featured in a Brandywine Conservancy showcase tour in July.//Photo by Saxon Holt

In all, she strives to spend just 55 hours a year maintaining her landscape. Management has to fall into a groove, a seasonal rhythm. Walking, she pulls garlic mustard, an invasive weed, pocketing its seed and leaving the rest to decompose back into the earth.

Growing up, Taylor played at the roots of trees—her “dollhouses”—in Greenville. Her father’s career was with DuPont. Her mother was a reading specialist at the Tower Hill and Tatnall schools. Margot attended both, which were near the family’s home. She often collected flowers along her walk to school. Once, she brought dandelion heads for everyone at a field hockey game.

Flowers remain a prominent theme in Taylor’s work as an amateur potter, and ceramics will dominate the external facade of two columns that are part of a new aqueduct on her property. “I just loved plants and horticulture,” she says.

An aptitude test in ninth grade planted a seed: She was best suited to become a landscape architect. “I never looked back,” says Taylor.

She attended the University of Georgia, earning a degree in landscape architecture, then traveled the world for two years, particularly in Asia. Upon her return, her mother delivered an ultimatum. Since then, she’s become what others describe as “totally obsessed” with landscape architecture.

In 2009, after she was laid off, Taylor returned to Green Valleys in Pottstown, where she was once director of education. Today, she works from home as an education specialist, creating curricula for middle schools and planning site work for green-innovation projects, largely to manage storm water. She continues to do unique work as a private consultant. “I’m not known for designing the rectangle,” Taylor says.

Her landscape architecture practice focuses on ecological design and restoration, and the development and implementation of environmental education programs. When she’s not crafting clay and serving as an advocate for natural resource conservation in the community, she mountain bikes and plays Celtic fiddle.

At home, Taylor’s focus is on operations, maintenance and providing educational programming and resources. A printed map and brochure, an interactive scavenger hunt and a free tour are her educational tools. So far, she’s welcomed more than 450 visitors to her property. “It’s about putting the vocabulary into minds,” she says. “It’s sustainable to me. Saying ‘green’ is like saying something is new when it isn’t. What we’re doing is returning to something old.”

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February 2018

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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The Philly Home + Garden Show will return to the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks February 16-18. The show will feature highly-interactive exhibits including a full scale model smart home,...

Cost: 10

Where:
Greater Philadelphia Expo Center
100 Station Ave
Oaks, PA  19456
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Sponsor: MarketPlace Events
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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society in partnership with The Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice are proud to present the inaugural Rehoboth Beach African-American Film Festival. The mission...

Cost: $10

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"Choir Boy" presents a complex look at race and sexuality. Shows are at 8pm on February 16 and 17; there is a 2pm matinee on Sunday February 18. Buy tickets online at www.WilmingtonDramaLeague.org.

Cost: $10-$15

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

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A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

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Tickets are $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students. Tickets are available at the door. Cash or check only.

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will host a four-session diabetes educational program, The Diabetes Connection, on February 6, 13, 20 and 27 from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. Pre-registration is required. As...

Cost: Call for cost.

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-629-6611 x2288
Contact Name: Nanticoke's Diabetes Education Department
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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Show More...
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

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FREE COMMUNITY EVENT: MID-WEEK WORD REFRESHER Come join us at the Mid-Week Word Refresher every Wednesday at Faith Victory Christian Center from 11:00am - 12:00pm. Refreshments will be...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Faith Victory Christian Center
301 Commonwealth Avenue
Claymont, DE  19703
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Sponsor: Faith Victory Christian Center
Telephone: 302.354.6726
Contact Name: Alvin Walker
Website »

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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

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Join DCH, New Castle Conservation District staff, and Delaware Cooperative Extension to grow and learn together through an entire season! Classes are designed for a beginner, but seasoned gardeners...

Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

Where:
Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Ruth Arias
Website »

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Clearing the mind and learning to think not thinking is Zen awareness. Taking the appropriate action in this moment is Zen. Once you know this in your body, walking, standing, sitting down,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark
420 Willa Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: UUFN
Telephone: 302.368.2984
Contact Name: Richard Field
Website »

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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

This community event invites attendees to sample healthy dishes prepared by local restaurants and vote for the most creative, tastiest, and best preparation. The first 200 registrants may also sign...

Where:
STAR Health Sciences Complex
540 S. College Ave
Newark, DE  19713
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Website »

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Explore connections between people and plants in these four inspiring presentations. Special thanks to Whole Foods Market for sponsoring this  year’s refreshments. Individual lecture pricing:...

Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

Where:
Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Mackenzie Knight-Fochs
Website »

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Tickets are $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students. Tickets are available at the door. Cash or check only.

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

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Show More...
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A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Ronald Barron was principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1975 until 2008. He joined the orchestra in 1970 after being a member of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and also...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Celebrate the 12th Annual Chinese New Year at the Delaware Art Museum! This celebration includes traditional Chinese art activities, artist demonstrations, a lion and folk dance, a Chinese yo-yo...

Cost: Free; donations accepted

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

For this Saturday’s activity, visitors will have fun with fluid dynamics and hydraulics - Pascal would be proud! Visitors of all ages are invited to discover solutions to science and engineering...

Cost: Free with admission; Adults: $14, Children 6-14: $5, Children 5 and under: Free

Where:
Hagley Museum and Library
200 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Website »

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Lights of Life Goes Disco Nights is Delaware’s premier breast cancer fundraiser to benefit the local programs and services of the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. Join us for a glamorous, fun...

Cost: *VIP $125.00; *Silver Mirror Ball $50.00

Where:
Dover Downs Hotel
, 1131 North Dupont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition
Telephone: 302-778-1102
Contact Name: Eliza Mohler
Website »

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The Newark Symphony Chamber Orchestra presents a performance of Johann Baptist George Neruda, Trumpet Concerto in E flat, with Wendell Banyay, Trumpet.  Also to be featured will be Gabriel Faure,...

Cost: 0 - $20

Where:
Newark United Methodist Church
69 E. Main St.
Newark, DE  19711
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