Late Fall in the Wild Gardens

GenevaLangleyBy Geneva Langley, Wild Gardens of Acadia Supervisory Gardener

Late fall is one of my favorite times in the Wild Gardens. Of course, I love the anticipation of spring and the warm rays of sun after the long winter, the first ferns poking out of the ground and the lime-y green newness of it all. Summer is warm, lovely and busy! The task list is long, there are many visitors to meet and the blooms, birds, insects and animals are in abundance. But after the wild pulse of life that is summer, after the brilliant fall fire of the maples, birches and aspens, we are left with this: the bare bones. The russet and golden tones of oaks and beeches glow in a more subdued way and the woods grow open and quiet. Gray days are often more lovely than sunny ones. The structure of the trees becomes more apparent. Greens now catch your attention and the mosses and Christmas ferns come to be more interesting as a result. Individual sounds stand out and can be appreciated more: the call of a passing blue jay, the rustling of squirrels and chipmunks in the dry leaves, a spring peeper confused by the cooler, shorter days.

I don’t think of late fall as a time of death, but a time of rest and transformation. This year’s leaves, raked from the pathways and spread on the beds as an insulating blanket, will break down and become sustenance for next year’s growth. Compost made from past seasons’ weeding and bed cleaning, writhing with iridescent pink earthworms, is sifted and spread around the Gardens, adding precious nutrients and microbes to the roots and soil alive beneath the leaves. The Pond is mucked out before the last frogs quietly vanish to the mud below. Most blooms have faded away, but the yellow ribbon flowers of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and the pure white, nodding ladies’-tresses orchids (Spiranthes cernua) are right on schedule in the late fall landscape. Tiny green leaves of marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) and immature buds of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) have already formed and are waiting for another spring.

Soon we will gather our amazing group of volunteers together one last time this year to take up the benches and signs, to dismantle brochure boxes, to finish cutting back the dried remains of ferns, to pick up branches broken in fall storms and to lay sandbags to deflect water that will soon enough rush over frozen ground. The coming winter will test our new fence to see if it keeps out the hungry deer who show a preference for the carefully tended plants in the Wild Gardens. Soon the Gardens will have a chance to rest.

Photos: Friends of Acadia//Julia Walker Thomas