what the hail brought: garden reflections

I’VE LECTURED AND WRITTEN for years about what the garden teaches—life lessons that lately I call its parables. The garden, with its greater backdrop of nature, is my companion, and also my spiritual guide. Tuesday afternoon May 21, 2013, with NPR on in the background reporting tragic loss in Oklahoma, nature added an exclamation point for me to its most powerful teachings of all: Nothing lasts, and nobody knows for certain what’s coming even one tiny moment into the future. Kaboom! Suddenly, the sky outside was falling. What the local hail taught.

Each day in the garden reminds me that I am blessed, even when it is raining ping-ping balls of ice from on high, as in the video clip above. (Try watching it full screen by clicking the Vimeo logo; for perspective, it’s shot through a window and the pond in the distance is more than 25 feet from where I was standing, in awe.)

BEFORE FIVE concurrent weather warnings converged overhead that afternoon to form the hailstones and, eerily, a small tornado, I had been thinking about Oklahomans, including the Shawnee garden club I’d lectured to in 1999. It was the first time I’d ever seen the formidable red clay up close—I think I actually said, “Is that soil?” before I got hold of myself and my manners. Also on my mind was Dee Nash, the “Red Dirt Ramblings” garden writer who always has a smile and a kind word. Even this last week; even among her tears.

“After tornadoes come blue skies,” Dee wrote the other day, sounding the resilience and faith I suspect she gleaned not just from scripture, but also in her own impressive backyard. “Bad things happen,” she said. “Our hearts may break, but it is our courage and spirit in the face of these challenges that matters.”

hosta after a hailstormMy neighbors and I were spared anything more than dashed vegetation and washed-out roads and driveways. No, I didn’t like watching helplessly while the garden became a giant pile of chiffonade; didn’t relish carting away four wheelbarrows full of tender growth and fresh leaves from just a single bottlebrush buckeye shrub, or seeing even the linear, tough garlic foliage shredded and ribbon-like, and mulch redeposited far across lawns.

As much as it causes consternation, though, it’s just not important—and what could I have done, anyhow? Much of it will outgrow its misshapen current state of semi-undress in time.

But listening to the news, and watching out the window for those few minutes, I felt as if I were being delivered an especially in-your-face reminder that no matter how mightily we humans wield our big brains, we don’t ever, in fact, have the upper hand. We are not Masters of the Universe.

In fact, some of what our brains have perpetrated is making nature sick, and angry. Things have changed, climate deniers. (I will shut up now re: politics, promise. But really.)

saturday june 1, 2013 plans

MOVING ON: As a gardener, I am a professional improviser and do-over specialist. We’ve had 7ish pounding inches of rain and counting in a few days, besides the hail, and temperatures fell back into the 30s. To try to guarantee you a great visit Saturday [June 1, 2013], as much as anything can be guaranteed, I quickly re-invented the Open Day and giant rare plant sale by Broken Arrow Nursery, into a day with free lectures and the sale and more, like this. There are three other un-hailed-upon gardens open nearby, too. Come say hello, and make a day of local garden visiting and learning. I’ll be the one in the extra-muddy boots who’s still smiling. Hey, at least we finally got some rain, right?

  1. Completely understand. Have watched gardens shredded by hail many times.
    That great power also creates new landscapes and brings life to many things.
    Have a great garden tour. There is still much beauty even with the roughed up leaves.

  2. Ann Hancock says:

    Yowza…what destruction. That is an amazing video. It must have been hard to stand there and watch all your poor plants being shredded. Reminds me of Lauren Springers’ stories about hailstorms in her former garden in Colorado. At least you and Jack are OK; and you are correct-the garden will stitch itself back together in no time. Wishing you an excellent Open Garden day!

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Ann. I hadn’t seen that kind of hail before, though I know elsewhere it can be a regular visitor.

  3. Brian G. says:

    Wow, that’s truly violent looking. I wonder how the fish and frogs in the pond fared? They must be bruised.
    You’re right, much worse things can happen (and do). Plants recover. I hope yours recover shortly.

  4. Norma says:

    I am so sorry! I admire your attitude. I have often wondered what I would do if a tornado or bad hail storm hit our area which is a possibility every year. I am afraid I would not be as sunny as you. Now I will think of your comments, swallow my defeatist attitude, and get on with it. Thanks for sharing a better way to look at things.

  5. Martha says:

    I am sorry for the damage to your garden. Glad you have the right perspective about it all! We have had tornado damage recently. Though nothing like the devastation in Moore, OK, our town and we lost countless trees and damage to houses. That being said, we have had no loss of precious life! Wish I could join in on your weekend events! Love your websites and updates!

  6. Joni Holland says:

    Doesn’t nature seem to have a way of putting every thing in perspective? I like your perspective on nature too!

  7. naomi d. says:

    I just came in from cleaning the pond, weeding the yard, and found this. It was quiet, peaceful, though at one point I heard a second line nearby, and the brass band was tempting me to go dance down the street. Eh, there will be another soon enough. This year an active hurricane season has been predicted, and I just don’t want to think about it. This is one of the most fecund spots on the planet, not just for plants but for people. It will probably be gone in another fifty or so years; already six coastal towns still on the map five years ago are no more. Hopefully I’ll make it a bit nicer here in my garden, sharing plants and meals with my neighbors, and I won’t become a mermaid gardener during this season. Even shredded, that’s still a magnificent hosta – may you have a great garden day.

  8. Linda L Smith says:

    Holy S–T..looks like something out of a Stephen King Movie. Had the same experience a few years back up here in the Hilltowns of Western Ma. We only got the heavy rain that the plants slurped up with glee and quiet my anxiety over forest fires.
    Nature holds all the power..could be worse..could be the deer that shredded the
    hostas..LOL. See you this Saturday…I will be one of your many visitors.

  9. Rebecca says:

    Holy Hail ! Nothing quite like that here in Cali. A wonderful outlook Margaret. At this point in my life, I need to be reminded that we humans do not have the upper hand. Those that view your gardens are in for a real treat, for they are beautiful.
    As a side note, have you seen the documentary called “A man named Pearl” a nice story of a man and his garden. Available on Netflix. I recommend it for anyone who loves to garden or those that like to walk among gardens.

  10. Jayne says:

    Oh Margaret! I’ve never experienced anything like that down here in the Southwestern part of CT. You have the best attitude possible for a gardener. During a visit to the new Native garden at NYBG today, I found myself wondering what it was like when those glaciers froze over that very land, not once, BUT FOUR TIMES! Before man began polluting the Earth. Why did the ice melt back then? WHy did it come and go, why did the climate change so radically back then? Is there anything we do on this Earth that can be as powerful as Nature, who is always in charge!??!

  11. Laurie Ann says:

    Thank you for keeping it all in perspective. I have grown up in the Northeast and seen the weather change dramatically over the years. It is impressive and frightening all at the same time. Can’t be there Saturday but the forecast looks good, for now, and I hope you have a wonderful day with your guests!

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks to all of you, old and new friends.

      Speaking of whom…welcome Laurie and Amy and Martha. I think that besides patience, the other leading lesson all this digging and pruning and so on yields: perspective. So many times you do your best but still don’t “win,” and I think that’s a good reminder that the process (not just of gardening, but of everyday things we often rush through rather than notice) is as precious as the possible payoff.

      I mowed today! It was sunny for about an hour and I thought — I know this is crazy, mowing when there is so much else to do (like put mulch bad in beds!), but it felt so mindless and was good to push around the noisy old thing and get some exercise.

  12. Charlie says:

    It was a strange week. From the heat of earlier in the week to this cold wet weekend! We went from below normal rain to over and above in a few days. Now my garden/yard is overflowing with the green,
    Glad you survived the storm- I was driving through Chatham, NY area and also saw a funnel in the sky!

  13. mikeinportc says:

    Whoa! I wasn’t enjoying the lack of rain, Monday to Thursday (It was badly needed, & kept missing), nor the fat glops of slushy snow mixing in on Friday. Seeing that, though, I’ll gladly take what we got. Had on of those a few years ago (June, ’05?). It was ugly for awhile, but it all came back, and looked good by August. :)

  14. Linda Pastorino says:

    I love your attitude. My mom died the week before my garden tour two years ago.. The show must go on .. but today when I finally got myself the courage to go out and take back my garden after all the damage of Sandy and I thought of what you had said to me last year about it all being not in our hands , and taking it as it comes, I thought of how nice some new plants will look and changes I can make etc. Having the spirit to say it’s ok anyway and to be welcome to view no matter how bad something looks are the lessons that really help shape one’s perspective in a healthy way.

  15. LYNN CAVO says:

    Thank you, Margaret. You are about so much more than gardening. We gardeners love what we do but we do need to be reminded not to despair in the face of adversity. I can well remember when my garden was shredded by a late June hailstorm right after I was priding myself on how perfect it was looking.

  16. Dee/reddirtramblings says:

    Dear Margaret, thank you for your kind words and link love. I felt it across the miles, and several of your generous readers visited. It was a lovely surprise. I nearly gasped though when I saw your hosta. I find hail so irritating. It leaves its own kind of mark. Perhaps, not the same scale as the tornado damage like many here are coping with, but a mess of leaves and other debris. I get a lot of hail most springs, if it rains.

    I’m glad you’re getting rain. That is a blessing, but really, must rain come with hail? It doesn’t seem fair. As for climate change, I’ve noticed that everything is revved up faster and faster. The droughts are worse. The storms are worse. (I’m shaking my head a bit sadly here.)

    Good luck on the garden tour and hugs from now sunny Oklahoma.~~Dee

  17. Sieglinde Anderson says:

    Oh, the optimists we gardeners are! I feel for you, Margaret! your attitude is a reminder to me. Every year, we here in western NC, face the threat of an April freeze following warm weather in March with everything leafed out. Last year was only a “partial freeze” that left leaves on Japanese Maples HALF brown for the summer. I’ve had hail make dollar size holes in hostas but nothing like your shredded image. I was shocked by your photo. My own attitude from year to year is “next year will be better” and that keeps me gardening but all those who still don’t get it that the weather is changing, in the words of a prominent TV personality “you have to be a moron”.

  18. Carole Clarin says:

    I agree with so many of the writers before me-we live without being able to predict what will happen a moment from now and we just need to keep going and think positive! Of course this is always a challenge when we see damage done to a garden or home that we have put so much time, work and money towards, but your positive attitude is what we all must emulate. Hard to believe anyone can deny that our climate is changing! I look forward to your Saturday lecture and know there will be an incredible, restored garden in the future.

  19. Becky says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Margaret, re: climate change. One wonders when the proverbial ostrich will pull its head out and get a clue. I was absolutely gob-smacked when I watched your video. My goodness. The pond looked like the witches’ cauldron in Macbeth! Thanks for the reminder of all the good lessons the garden teaches us.

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