Gardening After Hurricane Sandy

Shortly after one of Hurricane Sandy’s giant arms swept through our property last October, someone asked me how my garden fared. My reply? “Garden? What garden?” If that response resonates with you, read on.

We were more fortunate than many; none of our 35 downed trees fell on the house, although some missed it by inches. There’s a ton of work ahead of us and little chance to restoring the garden to what it once was.

Time to step back and get some perspective. It’s all too easy to get swept up in the hullabaloo that surrounds clean-up efforts and give short shrift to our emotional and spiritual pain. But, like any loss, if we don’t grieve the death of our gardens, it becomes impossible to move on.

When we’re able take a longer view, we must acknowledge that this is one of the ways that Nature renews herself. In our case, the forest canopy had nearly closed, meaning that not enough sunlight reaches the forest floor to germinate tree seeds and support new growth. By clearing an opening to the sky, Hurricane Sandy provided the necessary conditions to restore part of the forest.

Where the forest is not part of the garden, it will take decades for the still-living trees to completely die and decay providing, in the interim, food for fungi, insects, salamanders, and woodpeckers, as well as shelter for small mammals. New trees might even grow up out of the fallen trunks, as happened on another part of our property. There, a cherry tree felled by a small tornado still nourishes three saplings more than a decade later.

One tree at a time. It’s too overwhelming and upsetting to take in all of the wreckage at once, but I soon realized that it didn’t matter how many trees were down. Each was a tree I had lived with for more than 60 years and its loss was real, personal, and devastating. It is appropriate to mourn. One by one, they will be evaluated, cleaned up, cut up, and some of them thoughtfully replaced.

Endings are also beginnings.
Times of transition are times of both danger and opportunity. The danger is to stay stuck in grief over the beauty of what once was, how much effort has already been expended, or how long it will take to make the garden whole again. Few of the trees we plant in 2013 will reach maturity before we die, but we’ll plant them anyway.

Lemonade from lemons.
The opportunity is to work on a “new” part of the garden; one that I didn’t know I was going to have. Now there’s room for the flowering trees I’ve always wanted to grow and space for the homeless cedar seedlings “temporarily” growing in the front flowerbed.

It may not feel that way now, but one day, after the last tree trunk is split and stacked, or the last inch of sand or mud is scraped away, you, too, will be eager to get back into your garden. What will you do there? In just two months, tree buds will be swelling and bulbs will start pushing their heads toward the sunlight. We don’t have long to plan for the next steps. Better get cracking!

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