Wind, rain, even a hurricane couldn't dampen this reader's dream of a shady paradise.
By Rusty Brauner, Mandevile, Louisiana
Located on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, we live just north of New Orleans. I've spent years clearing out our 1.6-acre property and made many mistakes along the way. But with each mishap, I became better at creating an easy-to-care-for landscape.
For example, I learned the hard way to consider the mature size of trees before investing lots of effort and money into sun-loving flowers and shrubs. As my sun gardens withered and disappeared under the shadows of the towering pines on my property, I was left little choice but to learn about shade gardening.
Eventually, I nurtured a humble, shade-tolerant yard beneath the trees until August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina raged through.
A Day We'll Never Forget
As the whole nation now knows, Katrina left behind a notorious amount of destruction and heartache. After evacuating for 2 weeks, we returned home to a disaster.
The violent wind had flattened and uprooted more than three dozen of our trees. And when the trees came down, they crushed everything beneath them, including our house, deck and gardens.
Our first priority was securing our home; then we could begin cleanup in the yard. This was overwhelming for one man with a chain saw, so we hired a crew to help. But when their equipment rolled through, the tractors destroyed even more of my yard.
It was heartbreaking to see all that work (and money) crushed by fallen trees and by tractors. But considering the tremendous destruction Katrina had done over the entire region, there was little time for self-pity. It was time to start over...yet again.
From the Bottom Up
Caught up in the rebuilding frenzy, I decided our yard would be bigger and better than before.
After cleaning up countless limbs, pinecones and tree stumps, truckloads of soil were used to fill stump holes and wheel ruts.
I also constructed meandering trails around the yard that intersected at key spots. And so I could later install fountains and a waterfall, I made sure to run electricity to those specific locations. Now that the framework was finished, it was time for spring planting.
I chose trees of different heights to add more dimension to the yard. Tall trees like pine, cypress and magnolia tower over the dogwood, Japanese maple and crape myrtle I planted.
Shrubs, annuals and perennials were next. Oakleaf hydrangea, ginger, caladium and coleus proved to be a few of my favorite shade plants.
Today, our yard is a daily lesson of trial and error. I've learned that just because plants are listed in our hardiness zone doesn't mean they'll grow. One plant may thrive in cooler temps, but won't survive the summer heat. I've also found that simple things like the quality of your soil can have a huge effect on the end result.
Another unwelcome side effect after Katrina were the Southern pine beetles that infested our region. They attacked pine trees that were stressed by storm damage. I have lost four more mature trees to the beetles since the storm.
My garden is still suffering from Katrina's effects. But through it all emerged an overall pride in our backyard and a strong will to rebuild better than before.
The Brauners' Tips to Grow On...
- Before planting a new landscape, consider the mature size of trees on the property. That way, you don't invest too much into sun-loving flowers and shrubs that may not have a chance to thrive once surrounding trees grow.
- Not all soil is created equal. Something as simple as adding a few amendments can make a huge difference when it comes to the health of your plants.
- While a plant may be cold- hardy in your area, it's a good idea to check it against the AHS Plant Heat-Zone Map, too.