What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens: Reading Nature
By Melanie Priesnitz, Conservation Horticulturist
Working outside in nature most everyday gives me a wonderful opportunity to really see and feel the changing seasons. It has made me less reliant on internet and radio weather forecasts, and taught me to observe and interpret the signs around me. Prior to the onset of technology, this type of observation of the natural world was common practice. With changing times, more of us are losing track of what’s happening outdoors and some simply don’t seem to care. Each year I note the first night the peepers begin their chorus heralding spring. Four months later I welcome the first cricket chirp as summer prepares to close. I would miss these natural memos if I shut my windows for air-conditioning or if I didn’t take the time to sit or walk outside.
Some of my favourite simple observations to make in nature include smelling for imminent rain, noting whether dandelion flowers stay closed on a dull morning, feeling the change in barometric pressure in my knees while kneeling in the garden, listening to birdsong as rain slows, and the absence of birdsong before a storm. A new one that I’ve been observing is how high or low birds are flying. There’s an old farmer’s adage that says “hawks flying high means a clear sky. When they fly low, prepare for a blow.”
I have learned to notice when some plants look thirsty or hot or too wet. There are subtleties to observe in leaves and needles that will give you a clue about current conditions. If you’ve ever seen a rhododendron on a frosty day you’ll recognize that they curl their leaves as if they are shrinking away from the cold. Pine needles do the same, huddling together in their clusters to stay warm!
There are many books, some by local authors, that help teach us how to read clues in nature and be more observant of what’s happening in the natural world. Two of my favourites are: The Lost Art of Reading Nature Signs by Tristan Gooley, and Winter Nature by Soren Bondrup-Nielsen. Starting an observation journal and recording what you see on a daily walk is a great way to really start reading nature. The Annapolis Valley has a myriad of wonderful hiking locales, including the Woodland Trails here at Acadia. Get outside and read the changing of the seasons.
Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens