My garden, in its present form, was birthed at 2:30 AM on February 10, 1990. It was a violent birth, and it has taken twenty years to grow to what it is now.
Before that night our home was surrounded by a forest of oak trees towering into the heavens, with an understory of dogwoods, redbuds, and a host of native shrubs. There was a little Japanese maple, our marriage tree. After years in a pot, I had planted it out front when we moved here. It liked the new environment and had grown to about five feet. I had also planted azaleas, hostas, and daffodils, but the great trees spoke for themselves.
I loved my trees. I was inordinately proud of them, though I had nothing to do with their planting or growth. They were stretching skyward many years before we moved here in 1985. They sheltered our home from the hot summer sun and provided a break against harsh storms. The forest was a place for contemplation and exploration for both children and adults. It was a place to go when one needed to be alone or when there were secrets to share with a friend. I liked to stand beneath the trees and listen to the voices of the forest, the sighs and rustles and chirps and twitters, the cackles and calls of wildlife. I felt safe there, as did the birds and squirrels that lived amidst their branches.
That night twenty years ago, Lou and I were wakened by hail hitting the house and then heard a terrible howl and roar.
"I think it's a tornado," I said, not really believing it.
Lou headed for the other side of the house, where our three young boys were sleeping, and I quickly followed. As I passed the large windows in the living room, I saw trees bent half-way to the ground under the push of hurricane force winds. A steady strobe of lightening lit the sky behind them. It was a scene from a disaster movie.
We grabbed the children and huddled in the hallway, covering our boys' bodies with our own. We prayed for our lives as our home was taken by force. Powerful thumps pounded the walls.
"It's the trees," Lou said, "They're hitting the house."
The entire structure groaned and vibrated, and we heard wood snapping and popping. It was over within five minutes, and our home stayed strong and we were safe. The next morning, I stood on the front steps and counted seventy-five trees on the ground, their root systems ripped from the earth. Many of them had succumbed to the straight line winds that preceded the tornado. Some of those trees leaned against the house, embracing it as though to protect it, even as we had bent over our children during the storm. A contractor later told us that the big trees covering the front of our house had actually sheltered us from the force of the tornado itself. We had twelve feet of windows across the living room, and not a single pane was broken.
The following two photos show a small portion of the damage to our yard that day.
Repairs and remodeling of our house took nearly a year. The yard took much longer.We went through a brutally hot summer without air conditioning and without shade trees. One day I worked with Lou in the yard. Dark smoke rose as piles of brush burned along our drive, and raw craters pockmarked the land.
"It looks like we've been bombed," I said. I was very sad. The house had to come first, and our budget for landscaping was zero.
Then something caught my eye. It was a sunflower, it's cheerful face lifting to the sun. It was near our marriage tree, which had survived the storm unharmed, though giant tree trunks had come down all around it. I looked at the sunflower and smiled. It was a promise. I bought a packet of zinnia seeds and planted them.
Today I have a garden featuring Japanese maples and many flowering trees and shrubs. I have an herb bed and a vegetable plot, and a woodland garden with ferns and mosses and native plants. I stroll through my gardens along paths bordered by flowers and ground covers, and I plan new projects. It is a beautiful place. The following images of the front garden were taken spring, 2009. One hundred percent of everything seen, except the marriage tree in the lower right photo, was planted after the tornado.
My garden teaches me that change will come to push and stretch us, whether through careful planning or through the natural ebb and flow of life, with our permission or not, even through a tornado. It will come. And it can be a good thing.