In the Garden:
Upper South
October, 2008
Regional Report

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Windstorms and other natural disasters offer an opportunity to think about the garden in new ways.

Paradise Will Rise Again

People who visited my garden this summer kept exclaiming what a paradise it was. Indeed, it did look better than it had in years, as the result of, if not blood, sweat, and tears, then at least a fair sum of time, backaches, and money. Besides the beds and border, there were wonderful places to rest, too, especially the wrap-around porch, where new cushions and pillows and paint made it especially welcoming. My plans for this winter included growing more vegetables than I had ever before attempted in the greenhouse. Then a cold front collided with Hurricane Ike roaring up the Ohio Valley.

There were no hints of what was to come. No rain, only partly cloudy skies. No special weather reports came on television to interrupt the Sunday NFL games. It just started all at once to be very windy. Then it died down. After a few minutes, it started up again, only worse. Every time it stopped, I thought it was over. Instead, it went on for over four hours. At first, a special pot got broken, then a garden ornament. So far, I was coping. By the time it was over, my greenhouse was flattened, two limbs the size of full-grown trees were on my house (one with a large hive of honey bees), and another half dozen trees in the garden were down. Oh, and the electricity was off for four days, with no generator and three freezers of home-grown food.

Don't get me wrong: awareness of my good fortune does not elude me. There are thousands of people much, much worse off, just from this one hurricane alone, to say nothing of all the other tragedies in the world. Still, an event like this does give one many opportunities -- to mourn, to have gratitude, to show mettle, to start anew.

Picking Up the Pieces (Literally)
I especially mourned the loss of three of the trees. One was an ancient sugar maple that I've been photographing since the age of 10. Still, it was already on its last bit of trunk. Perhaps now a portion of it can be lathed into a bowl. Another was a pear tree planted by my mother some 30 years ago. A fence caught it on the way down, and contrary to the advice of my arborist, it's going to be pulled upright, guy-wired, and treated with TLC.

In the meantime, the green pears that were all knocked off by the wind have slowly ripened and been canned, to be savored at least for one more winter. The third tree was a large white pine. I'm thinking the remaining trunk might make a great chain-saw sculpture.

Although several damaged trees will have to be totally removed, I will replant as well as re-cable the one I want to save. Yes, they might fall again, but the benefits of having trees surround a home far outweigh the rare damage. In choosing trees, it does pay to choose ones that are the least brittle. The good news is that the storm opened up an area that had been under consideration for a makeover.

The freezers were saved at the eleventh hour, actually the third day, by the loan of a generator from a friend. Now I know that, indeed, I can pull-start one and that the purchase of one needs to be higher on my "to-do" list.

The hive of bees has been one of the greater challenges. Although told repeatedly that this was not the time of year to move bees, leaving the branch on my house for six months was not an option. After many phone calls and suggestions, one person was finally found who knew how to accomplish the impossible. Plus, he was thoughtful in not stomping the perennials underfoot any more than was absolutely necessary, which was much preferable to the gentleman who suggested bringing in a 100-horsepower tractor. If you're ever confronted by a similar problem, check with your state entomology department. In Indiana, they have a list of people throughout the state who are knowledgeable with moving hives.

The odds are not good that I'll get a new greenhouse put up before winter or even that I'll be able to afford one. But it has given me the opportunity to learn about different styles and materials. Plus, the situation inspired me to resuscitate a three-tier light garden and to learn about the new types of fluorescent tubes available. I won't be able to grow the range of vegetables as planned, but, hopefully, there will be some herbs and cherry tomatoes.

Many other plants were damaged, both by the wind as well as the ongoing cleanup. As I sit here writing and looking out my office window, its hard to imagine the young 'Grace' smokebush, with its broken branches and battered leaves, will ever be the full, glorious plant it once was. Yet I have been reminded over and over in my life of how well plants can respond to adversity. They will continue to inspire me.


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