The Scoop: Lament for a Garden

Published 4:00 pm Monday, June 3, 2024

By Susan Jonas, Garden Club of Danville

A long and eventful life has taught me that change can happen instantly. While not on the scale of a death or significant accident, the sudden destruction of a garden is heartbreaking for any gardener.

On Memorial Day weekend, the fierce wind that blew through Danville toppled four big trees in my yard and demolished years of hard work. The clean-up has been a massive undertaking.

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The damage could have been much worse had I not used a professional arborist last year to inspect and prune all the trees in my yard. He removed dead or weak branches that would have added to this storm’s debris.

Luckily, the storm damaged no buildings on my property, but other neighbors in town were not so fortunate. Roofs were smashed, cars crushed, and other landscapes ruined. If that didn’t happen to you, it happened to someone you know.

A drive through some of Danville’s older neighborhoods and cemeteries, home to many large old trees, proved that I am not alone. Trash cans full of sticks and piles of branches line roads all over the area. A chorus of chainsaws, woodchippers, and backup beeps drowned out the birds each morning.

Dozens of smaller trees and shrubs were snapped off or flattened in my shade garden. The battered perennials underneath the piles of debris will eventually recover. But without the shade they require to thrive, many will perish if not moved out of the hot sun.

I don’t want an open sky over my garden with more heat and baking sunshine. Plants will wilt in dry spells and require frequent watering. Flowers need regular attention, and I already have as many as I can handle.

I want cool, dim areas with welcoming shadows and mysterious shady recesses beneath ferns and giant hosta leaves, a refuge from the hot summer sun. While less colorful than flower beds, shade gardens are much easier to maintain.

Of course, we’ve seen worse, but practice doesn’t make recovering any easier. This gardener is almost as old as some of those big trees and much older than the newer plantings, which makes recovery a real challenge.

But nature has near-miraculous powers of regeneration. Without competition from the giant hackberry tree that once loomed above it, the little oak planted by a squirrel should leap ahead quickly. All the young native trees and shrubs smashed beneath the fallen poplar tree will either die or recover to fill the new gaps.

Twenty or even ten years ago, I would have welcomed this challenge, but it’s too much for me now. The damaged section will be much simpler from now on. I will let nature and the lawn mower take over.

An inspection after the professionals finished suggests this loss might not be so disastrous. I can move freely in what was once a thick tangle of native shrubs and young dogwoods. Birds and squirrels loved it. Getting in between the plantings for weeding and trimming is easier now. Once we have pruned the taller plants and they fill out in time, they will shade the ground-level plants that were too crowded.

A newspaper ad 100 years ago for the sale of this house boasts of landscaping features that vanished years ago. This garden has undoubtedly changed many times since then and will change many more times after I am gone.

Whenever we faced this challenge, my late husband reprised his mantra. “It happened. We can’t change that. Now, how are we going to deal with it?”

These words have become my mantra, too, so now I list all my tasks. I hear my mother’s voice declaring, “There’s no use crying over spilled milk.” Sorry mom! May I please shed a few tears before going out to rake?