The Phoenix Turns Two

On June 26, 2012, a firestorm roared down the foothills into the Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs. 346 homes, two human lives, pets, treasures, thousands and thousands of trees, and who knows how many wild ones, gone.  Images of that day still fill my heart with sorrow, helplessness, and dread.

On July 6, 2012, I stepped into an odyssey of healing.

All around the house, every tree and shrub, every perennial, every annual, brown. It was like walking into a sepia toned photo.

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Eventually, all the heat-scorched pine needles would fall.

As I drove week after week through the devastated area to this garden: I felt happy. It was the sight of plant life. First a chartreuse shrub shining way up on the hillside. Then, the scrub oak shrugging up dark green mats. And it was the anticipation of beauty, reckless and daring to re-inhabit the garden.

returning to life

Honoring the lives of all the plants — from towering ponderosa to tiny mounds of pinks — the homeowners waited nearly a full year to give them a chance to come back. I love these folks dearly for this. They could have, you know, sawed and yanked, thrown in new. But they didn’t. They gazed with tenderness. They cheered every new whorl of needles. They praised each opening bud. They gave thanks for the steadfastness of old friends. They said, out loud, of the white firs that had gone up like torches: “They sacrificed themselves to save our house.”

So passed the remainder of the summer of 2012.

Spring of 2013: Together, we hand-picked the trees who would replace those who had perished. I selected shrubs. All this gorgeous vigor made me giddy.

native cork-bark fir

Cork-bark fir, a Colorado native.

the old putting green

The fire melted the astroturf on a little putting green. And it got converted to a garden. How fun is that?

Then, at summer’s end, another disaster, another miracle. Rain. Too much rain. The burn scar, unable to absorb and buffer streams from big rain events, sent debris-filled flood waters crashing through nearby Manitou Springs. But this garden was spared. And the land around it drank as deeply as it could.

In the spring of 2014 a meadow appeared. And by full summer, it was breathtaking.

meadow following fire

Not all the trees who perished were replaced. One fine old friend became a different work of art.

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flames above trout

bear face

mountain lion

Short weeks after the fire.

water feature after fire

Summer’s height, 2014.

patio bed to water feature

water feature after recovery

Following the fire, garden-related businesses donated pots of annuals to bring cheer to the neighborhood. This generosity is honored by refilling the pots.

germs

Of course, we do a few elsewhere in the garden, too.

two tunias and a germ

Most of all,  however, it is the miracle of this garden rising with the phoenix of the wider landscape, both new and enduring.

sit here for hours

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What a blessing.

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After the Hail

In the land of Garrison Keillor, people are known to respond to nearly every cataclysm by saying, “It could be worse.”

Crazy, how that puts things in perspective.

And, on June 6 in the gardenhood, it turned out to be true. Wild as the storm was on and all around the flat corner lot, not so far away, it was far more dangerous. Torrents of rain filled the streets and swept the hail into drifts. This photo was published by a local television station, KRDO.

It’s hard to imagine any part of a garden surviving this.

Friends living just blocks away had everything — flowers, vegetables, tree fruits — destroyed. Over the next few days, I was fortunate to run into or hear from quite a few. I say fortunate because each one of these folks was carrying on, replanting, cleaning up, treating survivors for trauma. Gardeners are an intrepid and inspiring lot.

My own first steps of the journey into the aftermath gave me a big surprise. As I photographed the damage, the undamaged and the broken but valiant became more important, more fascinating. I had expected to feel grim and to summon my stoicism, but I went back indoors to make breakfast feeling a measure of delight. Most things would pull through. Lily buds remained at the tips of battered stems. The Meidiland rose never blinked. Hollyhocks leaves were shell-shocked, but they held tight to their buds. There will eventually be blossoms and perfume through the garden.

View from the front porch, the morning after the storm.

Three days before the storm, Crambe cordifolia and Walkers Low catmint had been subtly charming.

Nearly unrecognizable the day after.

More than half of three varieties of heirloom and native beans were reduced to stalks, but it was early enough for these short-season plants to reorder seed.

Potatoes were mashed.

The “Julia Child” tomato was reduced to a stalk and one leaf. “Oh, well,” rings her soprano voice, “These things happen. Carry on!”

Riddled hollyhocks held tight to their buds.

Most Oriental lily buds stayed put, though a few are well-dinged.

Fascinating leafy texture filled the bird bath.

Verbascum bombeciferum rivaling Scarlet O’Hara for post devastation defiant beauty.

Penstemon strictus and P. eatonii never blinked.

Echinacea quipped, “What storm?”

Moonshine yarrow was tipsy, but sparkling.

It was permissable, even wise, to let all the debris, the riddled leaves, the bent stems, stay as they were through Thursday and Friday while I worked, rested, and rallied for clean-up.

Saturday morning, before temperatures flirted with 90, I filled my mulching wheelbarrow to its 8 cubic foot capacity three times. This from my 1,000 square foot front garden, alone. And that didn’t get it pristinely clean. Not by a long shot.

The 8 cubic foot capacity wheelbarrow awaits its first load.

Bless the honey locust trees and whoever planted them in the parking median in front of the  house. Although their leaves rained on the garden, their high and airy crowns minimized the damage.

Reminded by an email from Larry Stebbins, I sprayed the remaining foliage with seaweed extract, and the healing has begun.

In ten days, Julia has grown two fine leaves.

The wonderful spuds have grown so much, I’ve started to hill them.

The garden is happy, breezy, and full of sun. So’s the gardener.