homepage logo

One year after Ian

By CATHY DUNN - Garden Club of Cape Coral | Sep 15, 2023

Sometimes it is hard to believe that one year has passed since Ian roared through Southwest Florida. We see constant reminders of the devastation; empty spaces on our beautiful beaches where buildings once stood, blue tarps on many of our roofs, and damaged trees and shrubs in our landscapes. But I am constantly amazed at the resilience of the landscape and how quickly many gardens have resumed a lush, subtropical appearance. I must admit that when I returned from Florida’s East Coast three days after the storm, I scanned my gardens and thought they would never recover. The destruction seemed insurmountable; trees were blown over, shrubs were ripped apart, palms were stripped of their fronds. It was difficult for me to even know where to begin, but after I established a sort of ‘triage’ for my damaged landscape things began to fall into place. And now, one year later, I can reflect on what happened with a clearer perspective and even a little gratitude.

The most significant contribution from Ian was allowing me to confront some of my gardening missteps and correct them. I had made some errors in judgment when I first moved to Southwest Florida because I was used to the slow growth rate of plants and shrubs in more moderate climates. Some of the shrubs that I planted when we first moved here five years ago had become overgrown and required constant pruning; they were the first plants to come out of the landscape! A beautiful silvery pink bougainvillea that provided shade for my fern collection and gorgeous blooms in the winter had become a nuisance and took several days to remove. I lost my shaded area, but gained room for plants that loved the sun and provided more diversity in my garden.

Adjusting the plantings that I wanted to retain was a second contribution from Ian. I have five dwarf poinciana trees that were blown over; I decided that I wanted to keep these trees because their blooms attract butterflies, and their lacy foliage offers a nice contrast in the landscape. I consulted a horticulture friend to ask how I should treat these trees once I had them staked in place. He told me to cut them back hard, and to use this opportunity to reshape the growth into a more upward habit. This year the trees are more beautiful than ever, and their ‘corrected’ shape is so much more attractive.

Observing the plantings that did well after Ian offered the opportunity to concentrate on these types of plants in my garden. My crape myrtle trees lost most of their leaves, but their flexible branches saved them from damage and shortly after Ian they leafed out again in a lush canopy. Bromeliads survived the storm almost unscathed; if they were uprooted, they could wait for me to replant them since they are epiphytes and don’t actually require soil. And as you might suspect, all my native plants were quick to recover even though many were almost defoliated.

And there were plants that did not fare well during Ian. Foxtail palms are much more prone to lose their fronds than other palms; native palms like the cabbage palm suffered little damage. Several of my hybrid hibiscus plants were twisted and broken by the winds. Large mixed container pots that were too heavy to move were blown over and broken; I now have the remaining large pots on wheeled saucers so I can relocate them.

Overall, I believe that Mother Nature brilliantly displayed her resilience and adaptability after Ian, and that is exactly what we had to do as well. Even as many of us are putting on new roofs and refurbishing damaged homes, we remain strong and resilient. As we endure another busy hurricane season, I feel that the lessons Ian imparted are a valuable reminder that life does go on – maybe differently, but if we take recovery one step at a time, we might even discover a silver lining. And if we approach our gardens with the knowledge gained from Ian, perhaps we’ll have a more vibrant and diverse landscape that can more effectively weather future storms.

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