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Monday
Feb082010

Tornado!

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.

My son Sam was nine years old in this photo.

Both of these shots were taken in the general area of today's front garden.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.

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Reader Comments (16)

Born on a dark and stormy night! Seriously what an escape your family had but what a beautiful, peaceful garden you have created out of such a stormy beginning. It complements the old forest rather than being artificially imposed on it. I suppose such storms are natural and bring down trees to make room for saplings and provide homes for wildlife. They show us how insignificant we are to nature's plans.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterYan

Deb, This is a beautiful post, and a wonderful reminder to all of us that dark moments can lead to new beauty.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJean

I really enjoyed your post. You are a good writer and a wonderful story to tell. Thank goodness for those trees. Your garden looks beautiful. I guess with change comes growing pains. Beautiful post!

I can imagine what a very scary night that must have been. To think one of your trees you were so proud of helped protect your house. You sure have made your garden beautiful. Now you can be extra proud of because it was all planted by you and your family.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Hi Deb, You are a gifted writer and storyteller, no question about that. It's also obvious that you're a gifted gardener. I look forward to visiting more often-I'm just getting back in the swing of it all! Your blog is so informative, I meant to tell you this stuff earlier but then I got sidetracked and forgot. I really like your links and the whole setup. Now, on to what the subject matter of your post was!! Wow. You went through so much not only that night but ever since. We can all learn from your attitude and outlook. Thank God you all were ok...and were able to move forward from there, that's the most important thing.

February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJan (ThanksFor2Day)

Hello Deb, just discovering your wonderful blog :)
What a beautifully written account of what must have been such a terrifying night! I share your appreciation of Japanese Maples and was very happy to hear your Marriage Tree survived! My favourite tree in the garden in one that we fondly refer to as 'Mother Maple'.

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

This is a great posting and what a stunning garden - so pretty and amazing what you can create out of a storm... it wasn't the same here at all but the garden in here in France had been left we reckon for around 9 years and so on arrival was a total jungle... I like your statement at the end - quite profound... thought provoking for the day ahead and so true! Have a good week - Miranda

ps by the way if you'd like any seeds sent to you from the various plants mentioned in my posting I'd be happy to send you some - just let me know!

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiranda Bell

Nature has a way of humbling any human with both it's beauty and its power. You have done a great job with your garden from a blank slate after the Tornado.

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersanddune

Deb,
I really enjoyed reading this post.
My own garden was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina.
At the time, like you, I was devestated. I never thought I would even be able to walk through it again - much less call it a garden.
As you said, such events give you an enduring appreciation for the survivors. And who knows what will grow out of the tragedy.

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGail (www.yardflower.com)

Stay safe, the season is beginning again.

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNell Jean

Deborah, how terrified you must have been. And losing all your trees, that is so sad. We lost a couple of ours in a storm this summer, it is so scary when it happens. But you picked yourself up, dusted yourself off, and replanted! That is the sign of a true gardener, and your garden is lovely.

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah at Kilbourne Grove

Thank you for sharing your beautiful and inspiring story.

February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLynn

Dear Deborah, What an appalling and very frightening experience and one which one is unlikely to forget. But how fortunate that you and your family were safe and unharmed which is, after all, the main thing.

I am amazed at what you have accomplished in the garden in such a short time. It is also very surprising how Nature regenerates herself in the aftermath of these events.

Thank you so much for the comment, to which I have replied, and for the 'Fave'.

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEdith Hope

what amazing before and after photos - Debs your garden is so beautiful - I presume the wooded area is the one where all those lovely nandinas are. Your marriage tree is just stunning. It might have taken alot of work and effort but the fruits of your labour are in these photos - what a wonderful place.

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRosie leavesnbloom

What an amazing post! You've inspired me, Deb.

Such violent and sudden change came to you, and yet it became a thing of wonder and beauty. Your gardens are gorgeous, and I found it especially touching that the marriage tree came through untouched -- as did all of you and your family. I've been through a tornado exactly once, and the straight line winds took out our huge magnolia tree while we huddled in the hallway -- but we heard exactly nothing over the roar. I'd always heard about that "freight train roar" but it really needs to be experienced to be believed.

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith

This is a wonderful post Deb! Amazing how far the garden has come after such a blow! I remember seeing a few shows on HGTV, probably "A Gardener's Diary" where gardens had been "born" from a tornado. I came from a place of very rare tornado-like weather. We had a micro burst that turned me from oblivious thoughts of weather to a very healthy fear. This is a whole new life here in Alabama where tornado warnings are a regular way of life. I'm so glad it all worked out and you were safe through the storm. Hopefully that will be the last tornado to grace you with a new "birth" and this garden will be your only tornado child!!

February 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEve

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