When the catastrophic hurricanes Harvey and Irma ravaged the southeastern United States this September, they spared little that lay in their paths. From Texas to Florida, homes and businesses alike suffered widespread damage from the hurricanes’ wrath—including some botanical gardens.
“Collections are different at every garden, and each garden requires a unique approach to disaster relief,” says Andrew Wyatt, the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Senior Vice President of Horticulture and Living Collections. In the days following the hurricanes’ assault, Wyatt and his staff quickly coordinated recovery trips to two of the gardens hit hardest: Mercer Botanic Gardens near Houston and Naples Botanical Garden on Florida’s western coast. “In both cases, we offered whatever assistance would be most beneficial in helping each institution recover.”
Mercer Botanic Gardens
Located in Humble, Texas, Mercer Botanic Gardens was just days away from the opening of a beautiful new area called the Ramble when Hurricane Harvey devastated the garden’s grounds. “Apart from some trees and irrigation systems, it was a total loss,” says Missouri Botanical Garden Horticulture Supervisor Jennifer Smock, who traveled to Mercer with fellow Garden horticulturist Lucas Sexton to assist with cleanup and recovery efforts.
“They’ve lost equipment and the majority of their buildings, but the biggest lost was to their plant collections,” Smock explains. “You just can’t replace those specimens.” Smock and Sexton spent several days salvaging the remaining living plants and restoring the garden’s nursery facilities so Mercer horticulturists can begin the long process of building their living collections back up—no small feat given amount of flood damage the facilities incurred.
“Benches had floated from the front of the nursery to the back, potting soil bags and plants were in the rafters, and pots had floated all over the place and escaped through broken fences out into the garden. We were finding plant collections in the trees and bushes. We were even finding benches that had floated from a nursery area in the bushes.”
These efforts marked only the beginning of the recovery process. You can help the ongoing restoration work by supporting Mercer Botanic Gardens with a donation.
Naples Botanical Garden
75% of Naples Botanical Garden‘s tree and shrub collections sustained damage when Hurricane Irma swept through southwestern Florida. The Garden dispatched horticulturists Travis Hall, a Certified Arborist, and Dave Janas, an expert on tropical plants, to assist with the specialized care of these collections.
“During our seven-day assignment at Naples Botanical Garden, Dave and I spent most of our time doing corrective and structural pruning in the canopies of damaged trees,” explains Hall. “This required careful climbing and rigging techniques to avoid further damage to an abundance of epiphytic and understory plants. On the ground, we organized accessions of orchids and bromeliads, transplanted uprooted shrubs, and moved piles of dead plant material to the compost area.”
Hall and Janas were joined by horticulturists from Chicago Botanic Garden and Atlanta Botanical Garden, giving the recovery efforts a true sense of community. “We ate meals together, told stories, and did some serious gardening,” Hall adds enthusiastically. “Working alongside teams from Naples, Chicago, and Atlanta was a real joy.”
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