Wild Gardens book a testament to perseverance

By Earl Brechlin
From the Mount Desert Islander, April 27, 2016

BAR HARBOR — Mount Desert Island’s botanical gem, the Wild Gardens of Acadia, is, ironically, anything but.

In collecting and displaying hundreds of plants from every biome on the island in one compact location, those who created and have nurtured this marvelous resource have worked tirelessly for decades to gather specimens, group them together, help them flourish. But for the manipulations of people, it would not exist.

The story of that incredible accomplishment now has been artfully told, primarily in pictures, in a new book “The Wild Gardens of Acadia,” due for release on May 2.

It has been written by two longtime friends, volunteers and supporters of the gardens, Anne Kozak and Sue Leiter.

Founded in 1961 at the park’s Sieur de Monts Springs, the Wild Gardens display, preserve, propagate and label native plants in areas simulating natural plant communities. Since the founding, countless park visitors have come to the gardens to identify plants they have seen on walks or hikes or to learn more about cultivating native plants.

Kozak and Leiter have volunteered together in the gardens since the early 1970s, and both, over the years, have served key roles managing, fundraising and working with plants.

While Kozak initially worked in many of the gardens’ habitats and with Leiter developed plantings along the stream bordering the wild gardens, for the last 15 years, she has worked to secure funding for the gardens and to ensure their long-term viability. She is currently co-chair of the Wild Gardens committee.

Leiter served as co-chair of the committee for 22 years, coordinating the work of volunteers, supervising the work of student interns, working in the gardens’ habitats and developing a long-term management plan.

Kozak said that her work with the people and the plants of the Wild Gardens has enriched her life greatly.

“I like the chance to interact with visitors, showcase the garden to people and talk about native plants,” she said. “At first, it was just a way of doing something and meeting people. But, over time, Sue and I became very involved in the gardens, and very committed. They had some serious financial issues, and we wanted to be sure that the gardens continued.”

“I found it to be great fun to review the work of the remarkable people who created the Wild Gardens and believe they would be pleased by our portrayal of their efforts,” Leiter said. “I hope those equally remarkable people who have sustained and built upon the foundations laid in 1961 will also find pleasure in the telling of the story.”

Few of the thousands of park visitors that tour the garden each year have any inkling of just how much of a struggle it has been to create and continue the effort. A brief chapter outlining the history is included in “The Wild Gardens of Acadia.” But the most fertile ground is in the pictures.

The images are more than a simple look back. They serve as a roll call of the personalities, talents and sacrifices that have kept the garden going, as well as a casual guide to the plants and trees themselves. The beauty of it all is that it demonstrates the truism that when it comes to nurturing a garden, even a “wild” one, the growth of people, plants and knowledge is inextricably intertwined.

Kozak, director of COA’s writing center, and Leiter, a retired library media specialist at the Connors Emerson School, along with photographer and COA alumnus Josh Winer ’91, will discuss the book at COA’s Deering Common beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, May 6. A reception will follow the talk.

All proceeds from the sale of “The Wild Gardens of Acadia” will benefit the Endowment for the Wild Gardens at Friends of Acadia.

The book is part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of Modern America” series.

Editor’s Note: Anne Kozak’s work as a freelance writer occasionally appears in the Islander.

Reprinted with permission.