Garden is a large scale walk-through representation of Milky Way Galaxy

The Delaware Aerospace Education Foundation is taking on an astronomical project.

By working with space artist Jon Lomberg, they’re in the beginning stages of creating a Galaxy Garden at the Big Oak Park in Smyrna.

Lomberg’s Galaxy Garden is a botanical representation of the Milky Way Galaxy. Once its complete visitors will walk through a garden where every plant, leaf and speck mirrors a portion of the Milky Way Galaxy. It’s taking the galaxy and scaling it down for humans to understand.

“The idea of exploring the whole galaxy is like exploring the whole Earth on foot—it’s just too big,” Lomberg said.

At its core is a supermassive black hole, represented by a water fountain. On the outskirts are planets, solar systems and nebulae.

This will be the second Garden Galaxy on the planet. The first garden, created by Lomberg, is in Hawaii.

To represent the millions of stars in the galaxy Lomberg used gold dust plants. The leaves of the gold dust plant have yellow dots. He said each dot equals a number of suns.

“We tried to calculate how many dots we had in our garden and we came up with a few million. But that’s not nearly enough,” he said. “The galaxy has 100 billion stars. So instead of thinking of each dot as being one star think of each dot being 100,000 stars.”

While Lomberg is enthusiastic about the project, he’s aware of the some of the challenges.

“If you’re going to have school groups you don’t want things with thorns, you don’t want things with sap that someone will be allergic too, and you don’t want things that are growing so fast that you’re constantly pruning.”

Choosing drought and insect tolerant plants are also challenging factors to consider, he said. But he’s isn’t going at it alone. He’s going to let the plant experts handle plant selections. That’s why they reached out to members of the Kent County Master Gardeners for assistance.

According to Kate Rutter, who represented the gardeners at Big Oak Park, they are “enthusiastically considering” taking on the project.

“It just seemed overwhelming but intriguing,” Rutter said. “It will be a lot of work. It has to be visually appealing and practical.”

She said the size and growth of the plants will have to conform to the entire plan. She highlighted the fact that the plants will have to enjoy sunlight opposed to plants that prefer the shade.

“There are just so many concepts that have to be worked out,” she said.

Lomberg has experience handling such problems since he started the garden in Hawaii. But that wasn’t always the case.

His first model of the galaxy was a mural he painted, but he wasn’t satisfied with the small scale project. He was partly influenced by the heart display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, where visitors learn about the inner workings of a heart by walking through a large scale model.  But he still struggled to make the plan come to fruition.

“It took years for it to really form in my mind because I didn’t really have anything to model it after because there wasn’t anything like it,” he said.

Stephanie Wright, president and CEO of DASEF said they’ve already installed a sprinkler system and power source under the garden. The next step is creating the pathways and installing the necessary plants. She said it’s going to cost $20,000 to get the garden started, but she said the costs are worth it.

“People get frustrated because they can’t imagine what’s out there and this will give them a notion of one galaxy,” she said. “When children walk through there and they see those little leaves—now you get it that’s the Earth within the Milky Way.”

This is Lomberg’s second garden, but he isn’t expecting it to be his last.

“Our ultimate goal is to have a network of galaxy gardens around the world," he said.