The long days of summer are great for getting outdoors and enjoying nature. Most mornings I take time to survey my garden, perhaps doing a little watering, weeding, or capturing Japanese beetles. Last week while friends and family suffered through heat and humidity here in Des Moines, I was enjoying the beauty and comfortable coolness of Door County, WI, as a guest of the Door County Visitor Bureau.
With more than 300 miles of shoreline, Door County provides easy access to water-related fun. A group of us kayaked with a guide from Bay Shore Outdoor Store putting in at Garret Bay and paddling around the cliffs of Door Bluff Headlands County Park. The trip back through whitecaps proved a thrilling experience! Cana Island Lighthouse, one of the most accessible of the dozen or so lighthouses in the county, provides a bird’s-eye view of the Lake Michigan side of peninsula. Also on the quieter eastern shore (that is, fewer shops and tourists) is The Ridges Sanctuary, which provides guided wildflower walks showcasing the amazing diversity of flora native to the alternating swales and sand dune ridges found in the park. Just down the coast is Whitefish Dunes State Park, home to the threatened dune thistle, and a lovely sandy beach.
Outdoor activities in Door County include cultural events as well as natural ones. The American Folklore Theatre performs under the stars at Peninsula State Park. And the Peninsula Players Theatre is a state-of-the-art, open-air performing venue with a green roof.
After days full of outdoor adventure, I rested up in well-appointed suites at the Ashbrooke Hotel in Egg Harbor, and at the Eagle Harbor Inn in Ephraim. There’s nothing like a soak in the jacuzzi to wash away the grime of the day and soothe overexerted muscles!
On a recent press tour of the Mobile Bay area as a guest of the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, I had the opportunity to visit Mobile Botanical Gardens, a 100-acre site with collections of hollies, rhododendrons, magnolias, and perennials. One of the highlights at this time of year is the camellia winter garden honoring horticulturist and plant breeder, Kosaku Sawada. He developed numerous varieties of camellias adapted to the Alabama Gulf Coast. Here are images of some of the color I spotted on my tour.
The garden is also known for its work in longleaf pine forest restoration. Much of the site is devoted to this important Lower South habitat, home to dozens of species of wildlife and wildflowers.
Other sites nearby to experience nature include the 5 Rivers Delta Center, an educational center and starting point for nature tours in the delta, The Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, with its boardwalk, aquariums and exhibits, and the Audubon Bird Sanctuary part of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. The latter two are located on Dauphin Island, a barrier island at the mouth of Mobile Bay.
Dogwoods are nature’s underdogs. So are the many other understory trees native to our woodlands, including serviceberry, wild plum, redbud, hawthorn, wahoo, and sassafras. The sheer size of cottonwood, sycamore, hickory, oak, and maple helps the towering giants win The Most Colorful contest in October. But shorter species offer big blessings, too. In the wild, their individual beauty often is disguised by the hovering limbs of tall neighbors, like schoolyard bullies showing little respect for personal space. By now, though, the big boys have reached their peak and bared their branches, allowing the small-fries of the forest and fencerows to show what they’re made of. They win me over, not just for the cute factor, but for their value in home landscaping. After all, smaller trees are a better fit for most backyards. Plus, many of these space-saving natives offer sweet spring blossoms, glorious fall foliage, and colorful fruits that wildlife can’t resist. The underdogs, in this case, have the last “bark.”