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Highlights of the 2023 season

By Dianne Clendaniel, Development & Communications Coordinator 

As Preserve staff reflected on some highlights from the year, themes of collaboration and community connection emerged.  

Azalea Garden committee members Gerd Grace & Martha Jackson

During 2023, in addition to welcoming over 50,000 visitors to the gardens and trails, we worked hard to keep our spaces beautiful and accessible – repairing stone walls and fences, installing new willow edging for pathways, improving trails, and offering a wide slate of staff walks and talks.

We recognize these accomplishments, while we celebrate the significance of partnerships and collaborations both internal and external.  

Collaborating with our neighbors 

The team at McAlpin Farm, our growing facility, grew 847 pounds of tomatoes and herbs for the Bar Harbor Food Pantry and provided 23 buckets of cut flowers to distribute to their clients. Plants are also donated annually to numerous local plant sales. This expanded outreach was in addition to growing over 11,000 annual plants for our three gardens and natural lands.

Our collaborations with Acadia National Park included continued monitoring, management, and education about hemlock woolly adelgids. Additionally, the Preserve grew native herbaceous and woody plants for the Park. Some of these plants remain at the greenhouses to get bigger, but all the graminoids (grasses and sedges) were picked up and planted by Park biologists this past summer. 

Internal teamwork 

The Preserve continues to evolve from its history of separate gardens and welcomes the benefits of this internal collaboration. Director of Farm & Garden, Cassie Banning noted: 

Jeremy, Ben, Brenna, and Nolan cleaning pots at McAlpin.

I saw so much cross-pollination all year with gardeners from one garden helping at another garden. We have four garden teams working in varied environments, with different managers, separated by a few miles. Gardeners from each team pitched in to pot up and transplant annuals at McAlpin Farm. They helped to get projects done at the Asticou Azalea Garden this summer and fall. They jumped in to help blow leaves at various locations and plant material at Preserve properties. They cleaned and sanitized a backlog of pots and flats at the greenhouses. This is the kind of coordination, flexibility, and enthusiasm that goes on behind the scenes.

Mary Roper, Asticou Azalea Garden Manager, expressed deep gratitude to the Asticou Azalea Garden committee, all volunteers, for their work which is critical and beneficial to every aspect of the garden. Stemming from the work of the committee, Mary reflected on what a joy it has been seeing visitors discovering and enjoying the Sand Garden. This summer’s work in the ongoing project to restore this area of the garden included returning some areas to conditions that can be raked. Over 20 bags of sand, which were sourced to match the original sand, were added as mossy areas were cleaned and substrate was improved.  

Volunteers on the David & Neva Trail

Much of the work on our trails and gardens is supported by volunteers from our community. You can see evidence of volunteer work on our trails, in particular the renovations to the Friends Trail as well as the ongoing trimming and maintenance completed by the new volunteer opportunity led by Mike Hays. Our land stewards also replaced a couple hundred feet of bog bridge on the Little Harbor Brook trail. That work required lugging cedar quite a distance; volunteer time and strength were instrumental in completing this project. This year volunteers joined the staff at McAlpin Farm as well as in all the gardens. Terry Smith continues to provide his expertise and time to the pruning of pines at Asticou Azalea Garden. Our volunteers find these opportunities to engage with the Preserve deeply rewarding and we are enormously grateful for their efforts.  

Learning & growing 

Jumping worms, also known as snake worms (Amynthas sp.) were found in all our cultivated landscapes this fall, including our gardens and storage areas. We have also found them in our natural lands but it is unclear how far and wide they are established. These worms change the soil by accelerating the decomposition of leaf litter on the forest and garden floors. They turn good soil into grainy, dry worm castings. We found the State of Maine resources incredibly helpful for dealing with this invasive pest.   

Jumping worms; credit: State of Maine website

What have we done so far?

  • The garden staff honed their worm identification skills and scouted all the properties where we garden or store compost/leaf mold. Natural areas were scouted where they abutted the garden locations with worm populations or had nursery plants planted. 

  • Where the worm populations were high, gardeners collected the worms into containers with soapy water. 

  • Margaret, the Woodland Gardener at Thuya, tried the mustard drench which brought worms to the surface that could be inspected and collected. 

  • The worm sightings were reported to the State of Maine. 

What will we do moving forward? 

  • Continue our scouting and documentation efforts and work to lower the populations of adult worms by collecting and disposing. 

  • Be proactive about containing the worms to the locations where they have been found and not spread them to unaffected areas. 

  • Trial the recommended heat treatment where possible, such as in the growing field at McAlpin Farm. 

  • Trial a light tilling in the spring where possible before annual planting which may kill the juvenile worm population. 

While we are on the topic of pests, the McAlpin team, experienced in using beneficial insects to control unwanted insect populations in the indoor greenhouse environment, helped source beneficial insect products to try in some of our border gardens.  Isarid, a product from Koppert (our beneficial insect supplier) was used selectively on plants susceptible to thrips, spider mites, or leaf hoppers in the border garden at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden. The team saw very good control of these pests which in prior years been challenging to control. Thripex sachets, a product that targets the larvae of various thrip species, were used in the Thuya Garden border garden to help drop a high thrip population that was found.   


Meadow restoration work continued at Little Long Pond. Tate Bushell, Director of Natural Lands, has been excited to work with Christa Little-Siebold this fall, our first apprentice through Maine Horticulture training program at University of Maine. In addition to transplanting native plants, this partnership enabled Tate and Christa to broadcast native seeds. Sowing seeds in the meadow takes extra effort, including identifying shoots and tending to them. Christa spent the spring at McAlpin Farm, learning about growing native plants.

Tate also noted that the training, experience, and skills that land stewards Dave Ouellette and Ed Hawes gain as volunteers with MDI Search and Rescue has made them valuable resources in the event of any accidents.  

The expanded walks and talks at Little Long Pond this year were well received and attended. The loon walk was held in collaboration with Billy Helprin, director of Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary. Participants observed the new nesting spot in a well-hidden and protected area, two hatchlings, one of which survived and fledged by mid-September, and adult loons fishing. The loon walk will be among the offerings in 2024.  


All of us at the Preserve are looking forward to continuing our collaborations and teamwork in the 2024 season. Our goal is to give you, our visitors, more memorable and meaningful experiences. We can hardly wait to see you again! 

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