Heirloom Gardener Blogs > Barefoot and Dirty

After The Storms

Living on the Gulf Coast can be amazing. We don’t freeze in the winter. Spring and Autumn have fabulous weather. We can wear shorts on Christmas Day. However, then we have these years where a hurricane decides to stop in for a visit. This has been such a year. Hurricane Harvey stopped in to say hi, and definitely overstayed his welcome. Harvey wasn’t our usual hurricane, though. He was much more.

The thing about our hurricanes is that they blow in, topple trees, wreck houses, create huge surges that threaten our seawalls, and then they blow back out leaving us with high temperatures, high humidity levels, and no power. The whole thing is very unpleasant. Harvey, on the other hand, blew in and stayed awhile, dumping so much rain on us that we were under water for days. Damages to homes didn’t consist of simple roof repairs from shingles that had been blown loose. No, we’re having to repair pier and beam foundations because of damage done from underneath the floors and having to gut houses because of drywall damage done by rising flood waters. This year, it was different.

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One of many roads in town

Of course, as with every occurrence today, there are the memes floating around the internet making jokes about Texas and Harvey, and believe me, even in tragedy, we can laugh along with the rest of the country. Unfortunately, reality always intrudes. The reality is heart-wrenching. Many lost everything. In the aftermath, driving through our small rural town, we saw people clearing out their homes, furniture, clothing, carpet, wet drywall. There were huge piles of the debris of peoples’ lives sitting at the curb waiting for the sanitation department to come and haul it away. There were people who literally had nothing but the clothes on their backs, no shoes, no food, nothing. Donation centers sprang up everywhere. Neighbors were helping each other, commiserating with each other. The community pulled together.

Our house sits on property that was formerly a rice field. Yes, we flooded. We have a pier and beam foundation, so our house sits up high enough off the ground that the flood waters never came inside. Our entire property was over a foot underwater, though. Our house literally became an island. Our septic tank filled quickly, so the toilets wouldn’t flush, the tubs and sinks wouldn’t drain. We had to wash dishes in 5-gallon buckets on the back porch. That being said, we were lucky. We waded out to the duck coop and opened the door each morning so the ducks could enjoy their new lake. Enjoy it, they did! The chickens, not so much, but at least their coop is raised off the ground so they could stay dry, if a little more confined than they would prefer. A menagerie of wildlife took refuge on our covered back porch for the duration of the storms and flooding: an armadillo, hummingbirds, tiny field mice, lizards. We fed them all and kept the dogs away from them. Once the waters receded, they went on their way, although I think the armadillo is currently digging burrows throughout our property.

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The ducks swimming through the yard

Many people see the news and think “oh, what a tragedy.” Yes, but the news only covers the big stories. The media can’t begin to describe the aftermath of such a disaster. There is danger in quickly rising water, yes, but there is also danger in whatever may be swimming in that water. We have many bayous down here and they are teeming with life, some of which is not so pleasant. Displaced alligators become a hazard. Water moccasins swim through that flood water. Nasty infection-causing bacteria are present in that water. The sewage overflow from septic systems is in that water. Something else the news media doesn’t report is the danger from swarms of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes thrive in these conditions and they come out in force carrying diseases of their own. Cities begin indiscriminate spraying of insecticides to kill the mosquitoes without taking into consideration of the risks that that adds to the list.

Another consequence of such a disaster is a shortage of many staples. Milk, eggs, bread, none were available in stores. Shelves were empty. Stores open with a skeleton crew to help as many as possible, but they have to ration supplies, imposing limits in order to spread supplies out as much as possible. Before the storm hit, people hoarded gas, so many gas stations had to close until supply trucks could get through. Again, we were lucky. We have our own eggs, I make bread, and we have all of the food that we have harvested and preserved all summer.

All of that taken into consideration, the clean-up has begun at our house. With our yard under water for days, obviously our vegetable garden is no more (except the red ripper cowpeas. I think those could survive a nuclear holocaust!), our flower beds are questionable since all the flowers were affected in some way, but the weeds seem to be bigger and healthier than ever, and we have algae growing on the sidewalk and the side of our house. Our carpets are giving off a musty odor, a sure indication that flood waters soaked through the floor from underneath. Our ceilings have water damage from the hurricane blowing water in through the ridge vents and creating roof leaks. Our lawn became so overgrown that snakes were a very real danger. Again, though, in comparison to many, we were lucky.

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Dead shrubs in the flower bed

The sun came out and temperatures actually dropped into the eighties, definitely not normal for the aftermath of a hurricane, but we weren’t going to complain. The ground dried enough for my husband to mow the lawn and the ditch out front by the road, so we no longer have to worry about any snakes hiding in tall grass. We’ve begun cleaning out garden beds, preparing them for our Fall garden by building back up the soil and clearing out moldy, rotted vegetation that could harbor pests or disease. We take one flower bed each weekend and clean it out, pulling weeds and disposing of dead plants, pruning dead wood off shrubs to stimulate new growth, taking inventory of what made it and what didn’t. We’ve hauled off the new fruit tree saplings that drowned and replanted the pomegranate tree that was uprooted by the hurricane. Perhaps this weekend, we will scour the shelves of garden centers looking for some plants to fill in the gaping holes left behind.

While this process has brought sadness in the loss of plants that we grew from seed, plants that we planted together as a family, it has also reminded us of the resilience of nature. With hurricane force winds that had trees leaning sideways and a foot and a half of standing water, every single one of my antique roses survived. Not only did they survive, but once the waters receded and the sun came out, we could see that they all had new growth already sprouting. A plant that many consider “high-maintenance” or “difficult to grow” or “delicate” not only survived a hurricane and a flood, but managed to thrive. Our Anna apple tree has new blossoms on it. My mallow plants are bursting into bloom along with our hibiscus and jasmine. The aloe and agave are putting out hundreds of babies. The crape myrtles are still covered in flowers. Yes, there was so much destruction, and so many people lost so much in material property, but we are part of nature, too, and we will put forth new growth. We will clean up and rebuild. Life will go on and so will we. One thing that our garden can teach us is that the most delicate flowers can survive the most violent of disasters, thrive, and grow to be bigger and more beautiful than ever.

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'Heirloom' rose

We will finish cleaning out our garden, perhaps expand it while we’re at it, and we will plant our fall crops. The flood waters leached many of the nutrients from our garden soil, but we will add lots of compost and other amendments and it will be ready for our new seeds. The drowned peppers, squashes, pumpkins, sorghum, corn and cucumbers will give way to clean beds planted with turnips, beets, chard, peas, bok choy, carrots, radishes, broccoli and various greens such as mustard, arugula and spinach. Bare spots in flower beds will be filled with new plants. The saplings will be replaced. Through it all, my gorgeous roses will continue to thrive, continue to bloom, and continue to remind us that we will too.