What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens – Outdoor Sanctuary
By Melanie Priesnitz, Conservation Horticulturist
Getting outside is not hard to do. You need no special equipment nor fancy clothes. You need only the desire and determination to make it so. As I sit at my desk writing these words to inspire others to get outside, a solitary bee is madly buzzing around me. He’s flying directly into my office window with monomaniacal determination as he looks through the glass to where he wants to be. As a former office worker, I often felt much like this little bee, like I needed to get outside as if my life depended on it. My mental and physical health have improved immensely since I decided 20 years ago to quit my office job and spend my days digging in the earth. If I spend too long inside now, I start to feel again like my friend the ensnared bee, like I need desperately to break free.
Spending time in nature is often thought of as an escape, and it can certainly be. It’s easy to lose track of your troubles and simply listen to the water as you follow a stream. Or ride your bike hard up a hill and think of nothing else other than getting to the top. There are so many ways to get outside and experience all that the natural world has to offer. Making it a priority to get outside, whether it’s in your work or leisure time, is a simple and powerful way to improve your quality of life.
The job that brought me outside two decades ago is the one that I am in today as a gardener at the Botanical Gardens at Acadia. The six acres that I help tend are special and unique and are a great resource for encouraging others to enjoy the world beyond walls and doors. The Gardens were designed to be accessible to all. We have gravel pathways and patios that can be navigated by strollers and wheelchairs. Our small oasis is right on campus in the middle of town, so you don’t need a car to connect with the natural world here.
If you take the time to walk our trails you can wander through nine different habitats of the Acadian Forest Region. We have representations of coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forests, sandbarrens, a coastal headland, and a bog. You can stop and watch ducks land on our marsh, search for our resident turtle, listen to the wood frogs croak and to the songs of a myriad of birds. These mini ecosystems are filled with the appropriate soils and native plants for each of the habitats. During construction we brought in rotten logs, rocks covered in moss, and old stumps to feed the forest, create habitat for wildlife, and as much as possible, create the feeling of being in a natural system.
Many visitors who come through our gates today don’t realize that twenty years ago there were houses on the property that we relocated so we could plant trees. You can now walk through our pathways and feel as though you’re walking in the woods. One of my first jobs when I started here was to help line the marsh and stream with clay. A little later that season we added two pumps to circulate the water and the very next summer two painted turtles started to call the place home. Each year when I hear the spring peepers calling at dusk in the pond that I helped to create, I feel deep gratitude that our small six-acre garden is home to so many living creatures and a sanctuary for many others.
You can’t hear the frogs sing or smell the forest after a fresh rain if you sit at your desk all day, so I encourage you, no matter how busy life may seem, to take a few minutes out of each day to get outside and soak up some of the nourishment so easily available in the great outdoors. The Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens are open daily and free to the public. We see more tourists from afar than locals, and I hope one day that may change. I invite you to use the Gardens as your outdoor sanctuary, an easy escape if you’re working at a desk nearby.
Turtle photo credit: Emily Wilson, Summer Gardener.