It had been an abnormally rainy summer in Anchorage. 31 grey, rainy days in a row had turned the normally overflowing, amazingly colorful, flower filled baskets hanging from every light pole in downtown Anchorage, into soggy, wilted messes. The abundant vegetable gardens in nearly every backyard were struggling just to stay above water. But, Mother Nature had an answer to all the rain - she had created an exceptional bounty of incredible, otherwordly mushrooms!
We visited the Anchorage Botanical Garden on a cool, spritzing morning. The garden was sequestered in a wooded area, surrounded by a very substantial fencing system designed to keep out the bear and moose. The previous winter, a gate had been accidentally left open and a large bull moose had been trapped inside the garden for about two weeks before anyone realized what had happened. Unfortunately, it damaged several trees and plants, causing about $15,000 in damage. Ultimately the moose was painstakingly ushered back out through the gate, but finding it and sending it in the right direction was no easy task.
The garden was organized in various “room” vignettes. Perennials, annuals and wildflowers were displayed using a variety of recycled and earth friendly materials to create planting beds. The herb garden was particularly exceptional! An Asian inspired pagoda trellis surrounded it and the raised beds were overflowing with all varieties of sage, thyme, oregano and many more unusual cooking and medicinal herbs.
A beautiful nature trail led us outside the fenced boundary of the formal gardens and through the woods to a rushing stream. This is where the real magic happened for me. The mushrooms were popping up everywhere through the incredible decaying compost on the forest floor. The size, color and variety were unlike any mushrooms I had ever seen before. Some of the mushroooms were as big as a large dinner plate, while others looked like little balls of cotton. I was waiting for a Smurf to pop out from under other brightly colored mushroom caps. I started taking photos like crazy and would have taken even more if my sister hadn’t reminded me that I hadn’t yet taken any pictures of her kids, only the mushrooms!
As we headed back to the gate to re-enter the formal garden, we spotted some moose tracks on the path. We took about three more steps and came face to face with a fully mature bull moose. Immediately I sensed fear from my sister, who is very experienced and usually very cool in these situations. She quietly instructed me to hide behind a tree if the moose charged us and to move very slowly toward the gate. She later told me that early fall is mating season. Normally the bulls are just interested in grazing, but in the fall they become agitated and aggressive. At one point, it looked as if it might actually take off after us. I was holding a large tree branch, which I intended to use to fend off any attacks. When we safely made it through the garden gate, we let out a huge sigh of relief and had a good laugh at my pathetic and totally useless weapon of choice.
I am sure all the mushrooms we saw were inedible – leave that to the experts. I would have loved to attend one of the classes offered by the garden on mushrooms, but the classes were completely full. Unfortunately, I can’t name any of these beautiful specimens, but I am happy to share some of the photos of my Alaskan mushroom extravaganza!