Discover autumn surprises at Meerkerk Gardens

Visitors flock to Greenbank’s Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens each spring to see rhododendrons in lavish bloom. But while many people think of Meerkerk as only a seasonal destination, a recent tour of the grounds proves the gardens can provide surprises all year long.

Meerkerk’s Rhododendrons may be the stars of spring, but in fall, rhododendrons stand as subtle backdrops to the splendor of deciduous trees. At the 53-acre gardens, fall paints Meerkerk with a mosaic of color.

Maples flare against evergreens silvered with mist. A Liquidamber tree beams with honeyed-orange. Third-year leaves on rhodies hang like Halloween ornaments in shades of yellow, orange and red.

Meerkerk’s famed rhodies dazzle in spring but a tour of the gardens each season gives an appreciation for the gardens’ layers of color, texture and fragrance.

“People who visit only in spring miss a lot,” said horticulturist Oriana Simmons-Otness, twisting a scarlet maple leaf in her fingers.

Missed is the aroma of vanilla and blueberries drifting from fallen katsura leaves. Missed is the fuchsia-, cinnamon- and lemon-colored rhodie leaf stems and flower buds. Missed is the curling, fringed barks and paths layered with fallen leaves.

“Fall shows a tapestry of color. Each week reveals a new thread,” said Kristi O’Donnell, the gardens’ director.

Simmons-Otness said she loves the aubergine leaves on the mountain ash and Japanese maples.

“It’s a great time to see what accents rhodies and get garden ideas,” she added.

At Meerkerk, fall’s kaleidoscope surprises visitors as it previews winter’s season of bark and buds that will herald spring.

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