Autumn, it seems, brings a slowing from the bustle of summer and a deeper appreciation of nature.
It’s time to trade a faded T-shirt for a worn hoodie, to pull up a chair close to an outdoor fire, press a marshmallow into the end of a stick and watch the flames dance.
“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree,” Emily Bronte observed.
“Fall is a great time of year to celebrate the outdoors after everybody has been cooped up in the air conditioning all summer. We can get plants in the ground and get them established through the winter months,” Stephen Pryce Lea, director of horticulture at the Delaware Botanic Gardens, said.
“The main planting we do through fall is replenishment planting in the meadow. We were successful in getting several grants this year, so we have large tree planting projects. Native trees, native saplings, will be going in in October,” he said.
They will include willows, maples, oaks — a mix of trees native to the area that will be densely planted on the roadside berm to create a hedge-type, thicket environment that will provide habitats for birds and other wildlife, and protect the garden.
“The garden goes through its fall stages. The meadow is spectacular in the fall. People can come and see how we maintain the gardens,” he said.
As a lifelong gardener, Pryce Lea has a kind of end-of-season tradition.
“When you get to the fall, you’re like, ‘Whew! We did it!’ You look back on your successes and how you can do better for next year,” he said.
“There’s a bit of a relief when we get cooler temperatures and it’s a good time to start getting plants in the ground, especially in this part of the world, because in the summer, 90-degree days restrict what you can put in the garden,” he said.
Earlier this year, in the spring, thousands of bulbs planted by volunteers flowered. About 84,000 bulbs were planted, and an additional 60,000 will go into the ground beginning this November.
Crocus, tulip and grape hyacinth bulbs bloomed in shades of lavender, purple, orange and blue. Red, white and yellow tulips opened, and grape hyacinths bloomed in pale blue and bright purple.
In late February, Pryce Lea told the Coastal Point that everyone was looking forward to seeing those bulbs in their full glory and said they were arranged very close together, “lining the pathways in large groups so you get a feel for something very natural.”
“We wanted a colorful walkway from the Welcome Center. I chose four or five types of bulbs in large numbers and put them in bold swaths throughout the meadow among the grasses there,” he said, praising volunteers for their dedication.
Currently, there are more than 100 volunteers, with more signing up all the time.
“We always need people to greet guests, manage the sell end of things in gift shop, answer questions in the garden, help us maintain the gardens,” he said.
To get involved, see www.delawaregardens.org.
In October at the Gardens, volunteers will help sculpt forest creatures.
“We will have scarecrows, a discovery trail throughout the woodland that will be fun,” said Pryce Lea, who was named director of horticulture 18 months ago and who pronounced the 2022 season “fantastic.”
“With 2022 being post-pandemic, we are seeing great numbers of guests. It has exceeded all expectations. We have been successful in the number of grant projects. We have money to spend on plants, and that brings opportunities for new and returning volunteers,” he said.
Several fall events are planned, including Back to the Garden, the annual dinner party, on Thursday, Sept. 29. Guests will gather in a large tent. Plans for the much-anticipated pavilion are now in the final design concept stage, with groundbreaking expected around the end of the year.
The Gardens’ new restrooms have been nominated for the Top 10 Best Restrooms in America.
“We are keenly awaiting the results. We should know by the end of the month. What a great accolade to be recognized like that,” he said.
Pryce Lea directs educational opportunities at the gardens, a responsibility he said he especially enjoys, since he has always had a fondness for teaching. He will lead the Fall Gardening for Wildlife Meadow Tours, at 2 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2, 15 and 16, discussing garden maintenance and plants that are essential for providing wildlife with a food source and habitat.
The Delaware Botanic Gardens will close for the season on Sunday, Nov. 20, but Pryce Lea and staff will still be there to “put in new trails and do the work that can’t be done while we are open to the public,” he said.
“We also have a big project along the shoreline. DelDOT is doing erosion-control there, beginning in the next couple of weeks, to protect the shoreline,” he said, adding that rocks and sand will be put in place.
“In the fall, the trees are changing colors and, along with the plants, they are beautiful. Delaware can be a little different with different fall colors compared to farther north,” he said.
“If we get cooler temperatures, we will have a spectacular fall. We have to wait and see what happens. If there is a long, hot, late summer colors won’t be as much. You never know. It’s all open to weather and elements.”