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Our home gardens: From grief to renewal

By DEBORAH HAGGETT - Garden Club of Cape Coral | Oct 17, 2022

The devastation of Hurricane Ian astounds me! I have blissfully enjoyed living in paradise knowing hurricanes were part and parcel of the joyous weather and glorious sunshine! But the “I” storms, Irma and Ian, seem to have targeted us for massive wake-up calls. Everyone I spoke with immediately after the storm was in shock, saying: “Who would have thought a near Cat 5 hurricane would slam into our beloved barrier islands, wreaking havoc throughout our area, the state, and beyond?” “I can’t believe the level of destruction; it looks like a war zone!” “I don’t know where to start!”

Where do we start? Unfortunately, having no television or Wi-Fi, I can’t observe or research official links to answer these questions with a well-informed voice. I can speak from my heart and past experiences. We started by using our limited cell service to reach out to our family and friends, letting them know we were safe. We called emergency services for wellness checks for those we couldn’t reach and who may have been in harm’s way. Once we were assured our loved ones were safe, we focused on our survival needs, ensuring we had safe shelter, water, and food. We, then, began rebuilding our lives and our homes.

It is difficult to write about our gardens when so much has been lost by so many! But for those of us who turn to our gardens in times of stress for peace of mind, I will share a few thoughts.

As we walk among the ruins of our favorite trees, bushes and flowers which were nurtured with loving care, we need to acknowledge we have experienced a loss. It is not the horrendous loss of loved ones or our homes, but a loss. As such we will experience grief and the feelings which accompany grief: denial, shock, disbelief, anger, bargaining (what if’s and regrets), sadness/depression, and later acknowledgement, acceptance, and finding meaning of all that was lost (Kubler-Ross; Kessler; www.whatsyourgrief.com).

While we navigate these feelings, we continue making steps toward clean up, moving branches and palm fronds to the side of the road. Picking up roof shingles and random “gifts” delivered by the winds and currents. Often, this is accomplished with the help of family, friends and neighbors. I realize this may sound cliché, but together we are moving forward one step at a time.

I am once again reminded of the generosity of my neighbors and our community! The stories of acts of kindness are heartwarming.

It may be too soon to plan our garden’s recovery, but know that most plants want to live. The palms with a center bud and spear at the top of the trunk may survive. Leave the hanging fronds to fall on their own accord. The palm will gather strength and food from these fronds.

Small trees which can be straightened upright within the first few days after the storm may also survive unless the main roots have been severed or they suffered salt water intrusion.

Once the internet is functioning, many questions you have about specific plants may be answered through the University of Florida’s/Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences website (ifas.ufl.edu).

Locally, when electricity is fully restored and recovery efforts improve, you may seek answers from the UF/IFAS Lee County Extension office at lee.ifas.ufl.edu or by calling 239-533-7504.

As in life and in our gardens, we will never forget that which has gone before, but with each step forward we will forge new relationships from the foundation of our previous bonds. Over time, our grief will lessen as we attempt to find meaning and make sense of our losses. Life in our gardens will bloom again.

Deborah Haggett is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral. Visit us at www.gardenclubofcapecoral.com

References available upon request and when internet services are restored.