The Marian Coffin Gardens at Gibraltar are a hidden gem: a whimsical garden growing out of a derelict mansion, located on a classic 19th century estate. The enchanting greenery is both historic in nature and soothing to the soul, making the Marian Coffin Gardens one of Wilmington’s prime attractions.

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Address 1405 Greenhill Ave, Wilmington, DE 19806, United States

+1 302-322-7100

The mansion at Gibraltar, named after a rocky British promontory, was built in the 1840s by John Rodney Brinckle, grandnephew of American founding father Caesar Rodney. It was bought in 1909 by Hugh Rodney Sharp and his wife, Isabella Mathieu du Pont Sharp. Sharp worked to expand the house—he added two wings, a conservatory, a greenhouse, a pool, and more. Sharp and du Pont were also responsible for commissioning landscape architect Marian Cruger Coffin to create an elaborate garden for the estate. 

Coffin, born in 1876, was one of the first women to work professionally as a landscape architect. She designed countless gardens for the East Coast elite of the early 20th century. Among her clients were families such as the Fricks, Vanderbilts, and du Ponts. She began work on the Gibraltar gardens in 1916. Coffin chose to design the gardens in the Italian Beaux Arts style, as layers of terraces rising from a flower garden at the base of the hill to the estate on top. The gardens were created with focal points for statues in mind; the Sharps brought the statues back from their travels all over the world.

Isabella du Pont Sharp died in 1946 and Hugh Sharp died in 1968; the estate was inherited by their son, Hugh Rodney Sharp Jr. Unfortunately, Sharp Jr. did not maintain the gardens or the estate house, and they were in complete disrepair when he died in the 1990s. Gibraltar and its gardens were recommended for demolition, but Preservation Delaware and other local groups intervened to save the estate. Preservation Delaware restored the gardens in 1999, and maintains them to this day.

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The Marian Coffin Gardens have been reconstructed as faithfully to Coffin’s original designs as possible. Now, flora fills every terrace; the elegant marble staircase leading from the flower garden to the mansion is refurbished; weathered statues stand guard over the vegetation. The swimming pool Sharp built has been turned into a reflecting pool, resplendent with lotuses and koi fish. A 200 foot long avenue of bald cypresses, originally planted by the Sharps in the 1920s, has been restored. Many of the original structures still stand within the gardens: the teahouse, the carriage house, and the Gibraltar house itself, though it has not been restored. Gibraltar is said to be the most accurately recreated landscape work of Coffin’s. 

The entire estate has a certain patina of time that adds to its charm. Its wealth of greenery is dotted with bright flowers and majestic statues, delightful structures and iron gates. The Gibraltar estate is an unequivocal attestation to the talent of Marian Coffin, one of the first of her time—thus, it is an absolute must-visit. The gardens are free to enter, and they are open from dawn to dusk.

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