New thresholds, New anatomies
- Hart Crane
A vast hurricane passed through. Like we've never seen before.
I was a little anxious when I got Marc's phone photos of the fallen trees. I couldn't really see the extent of the damage Sandy (what an innocuous name) had done. Only a few trees were down in the garden, but this is what I didn't know - just outside the deer exclusion fence, thirteen huge White Pines, easily 70 feet tall - a wall of trees that had formed a dark green border along the long south side of the garden - were all laid out flat on the ground, aligned in rows, like a low wall, like a bunker. I suspected some of the pines were down, but I couldn't really tell from the photos.
When I finally got out to the house, almost two weeks after the storm, I found massive destruction. Much of the green wall of forest that defined the southern border of the garden is gone, and in its place is an ugly mess of giant logs and debris, more than a little reminiscent of a pile up of rail cars after a train wreck. Since arriving on the scene, as each day passes, it's clear the remaining verticals and diagonals, trees limbs, smaller leaning trees, airborne roots, contribute greatly to the visual chaos. They must be cut. The mess must be manicured, groomed. Cleaned up, the line of logs will be much easier to accommodate.
Thinking about garden aesthetics, of course I want to screen this from view, but the processes of nature, and effects of changing climate, make this artifact of the storm a useful lesson, and in a broader sense, give visibility to a more universal theme of creation and dissolution. So total invisibility isn't the goal.
The fallen behemoths do put my idea of garden to the test. I've often said this is an experimental garden, one to match plants to a difficult environment, to a changing climate, and to the effects of such changes. Now I have a challenging adaptation to make. Without the tall evergreens, that ragged, bare line of forest lets the mass of the garden dissipate into the fractured woods, drift away through the competing interstices of the trees and the blank sky. It's life leaks out without a skin.
That green wall of tall White pines contained the garden, set off its wildness, amplified its colors, textures, shapes and forms. Gave it context. Below you can see, without a boundary, the garden vanishes into the surrounding woods.
I need a replacement border, a hedgerow, something better that that tall line of pines, a boundary that defines the garden yet lets in ample light. This weekend, I found four large river birches on sale, and they will go in today. In spring, I'll add more plants, possibly willows to coppice, large grasses, other plants adapted to wet soil, vines if I can get them to grow in the stony ground. Virginia creeper on the long log barrier might be an attractive addition, and give great color in fall. But the fallen trees will remain. (They are on state-owned land, so I can't remove them even if I could afford the thousands it would cost). They will offer habitat for all sorts of wildlife. Woodpeckers will love them. And the downed trees are a lasting testament to the power of nature and our puny existence.
Since these trees formed the southern boundary of the garden, far more light will come through next summer, possibly scorching plants that are used to growing in afternoon shade (I hope not), certainly changing the ecology of this area. I think I'll be able to renovate this end of the garden, but it may take a couple of seasons to discover what changes the changed ecology will make possible.
I'm rather excited by the prospect of moving with the garden into this new phase.