Gardening After the Disaster
Two questions from the First Response Unit member, a man barely out of his teens and obviously terrified, told us the disaster was serious and not limited to our house where we cowered in the basement. Never will I forget his chilling questions: "Is everyone accounted for?" and "Are there any injuries?" That was a little over three years ago now.
One year afterward, the new house, built on the same lot, was ready. We had been luckier than many. Some lost a loved one, a beloved pet, or discovered too late that they were underinsured and could not rebuild. Our losses and losses of friends were heartbreaking, but after a year, most were looking forward and starting over.
Starting over in the garden after the disaster brought some unexpected challenges, but pleasant surprises as well. Some differences were obvious, such as full sun shining where there was once shade. Some differences were to be encountered later, as they were not immediately noticeable. Here are my tips borne of experience:
ABOVE RIGHT: THE LAWNMOWER HAS SEEN BETTER DAYS
LEFT: WHERE THE BARN USED TO BE
The soil will be different. Don't just assume that the soil content will be exactly the same. New construction brought clay where we didn't previously have clay. Spend some time digging around. Watch where the water lays after a rain. Some may experience better soil than they originally had. Some may not. But the soil will be different, I promise. Spend some time getting to know it all over again.
Be careful of debris. There are unintended items in your soil now. Watch for glass particularly, as well as chunks of masonry and rock. Even a tiny shard of PVC pipe will cut a knee. Wear shoes all the time, even years later, and always use a kneeling pad. These pieces of debris will continue to rise to the surface many years after the disaster. Anytime you begin digging, take a spare box with you for the pieces of brick, glass, and unidentifiable plastics you will encounter.
You may need gardening tools. Don't start with plants, as tempting as it may be. You may discover you don't have what you need to plant them. A friend gave us a nice-sized tree as a housewarming present. We spent over $50.00 to purchase a shovel and garden hose to plant it and keep it watered. We didn't plan for that. People did ask what we wanted and needed, but items like garden hoses, trowels, shovels, rakes, and even buckets never occurred to us. They are not expensive items unless you are buying everything you need all at once.
RIGHT: SEE THE MAILBOX WHERE THE POST OFFICE WAS?
Be selective with the free items. If you've experienced a large-scale devastation, the altruistic will arrive, and we are grateful for them. Sometimes their good will is genuinely marvelous. Sometimes, sadly, businesses see an opportunity to get rid of stock that didn't sell. In the fall a local big box store donated all its leftover trees to our town. A truck was parked downtown, the trees unloaded near the temporary post office, and we all got to choose three. They were picked-over babies, and having succumbed to life in a pot too long, none lived through the winter. The unexpected lesson? Good will doesn't necessarily mean good product. Of course the store meant well, but it was heartbreaking to lose them, and nobody needed another sorrow. Spare yourself the heartache and be selective, even at the risk of seeming snobbish. At this point, any small setback or loss seems larger than it used to. You don't need that.
On the other hand, the National Arbor Foundation sent a long list of trees, including the botanical name and a thorough description to every household with instructions to choose whatever we wanted. We had a special tree-planting day, going house-to-house planting a tree on the flag the resident placed to indicate the spot. We chose the Tilia cordata ‘Greenspire.' The beauty of the 7-foot tree that first year lay in its perfection. It had no lost limbs or damaged spots. Young and fresh compared to the remains surrounding it, the Linden leans northward slightly, a product of its unprofessional planting. We wouldn't have it any other way.
Save anything from the garden that may have survived. It will take on a special meaning for you. Way out near the rear of our lot is a long thick row of Lycoris squamigera, Naked Ladies. The first fall when I saw them, seemingly unscathed and nodding in the breeze, I nearly cried. Any living thing that has gone through what they went through deserves to live happily ever after in that very spot.
Look for funny things. It may take some time for your sense of humor to return, but nurture it along when it does. We who can laugh at our trials are not overcome by them. We started a collection of amusing items we've found in the yard. When digging and we hit something hard, we'll wonder aloud if it's a root from one of the old trees. I make fun of myself when I tell my gardening stories. We took bets on how long it would take to get the big mess of fallen trees out of the corner of our yard. Now we take bets on how old we'll be before we have shade. It's all in good fun.
THE ANSWER WAS TWO YEARS TO GET RID OF THIS WRECKAGE.
THE HEIGHT OF THE ABOVE TREE ROOTS IS APPROXIMATELY SIX FEET.
The people on Dave's Garden look out for one another, and if someone experiences devastation, the members respond. The story partially told here is how I found Dave's Garden. Rather than mindlessly tending the established plants of the former owner, I had to start a garden from scratch. I came here and you helped me. I hope I have helped you in return. God bless.
*****Special thanks to Kelly Peterson for the use of her post office photo.