How a secret Delaware garden suddenly reemerged during the pandemic

Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware has a secret garden which is now available to visitors.

Wilmington, Delaware — If you like a reclamation project, you'll love what Paul Orpello is overseeing at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware.

It's the site of the original DuPont factory, where a great American fortune was made in gunpowder in the 19th century.

"There's no other post-industrial site reimagined in this way," Orpello, the museum's director of gardens and horticulture, told CBS News.  

"There's only one in the world," he adds.

It's also where a DuPont heiress, Louise Crowninshield, created a garden in the 1920s.

"It looked like you were walking through an Italian villa with English-style plantings adorning it," Orpello said of the garden.

Crowninshield died in 1958, and the garden disappeared over the ensuing decades.

"Everything that she worked to preserve, this somehow got lost to time," Orpello said.

In 2018, Orpello was hired to reclaim the Crowninshield Garden, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit before he could really get going on the project. However, that's when he found out he didn't exactly need to, because as the world shut down in the spring of 2020, azaleas, tulips and peonies dormant for more than a half-century suddenly started to bloom.

"So much emotion at certain points," Orpello said of the discovery. "Just falling down on my knees and trying to understand."

"I don't know that I could or that I still can't (make sense of it)," he explained. "Just that it's magic."

Orpello wants to fully restore the garden to how Crowninshield had it, with pools she set in the factory-building footprints and a terrace with a mosaic of a Pegasus recently discovered under the dirt.

"There was about a foot of compost from everything growing and dying," Orpello said. "And then that was gently broomed off. A couple of rains later, Pegasus showed up."

Orpello estimates it will cost about $30 million to finish the restoration, but he says he is not focused on the money but on the message.

"It's such a great story of resiliency," Orpello said. "And this whole entire hillside erupted back into life when the world had shut down."

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