Rebuilding After the Storm

BY Melissa Sutton-Seng

Hurricane Florence hit area public gardens hard but their daily visitors are back enjoying spring’s wonder in these gardens the storm’s destruction wonderfully mitigated and — in some cases creating a canvas for new beauty.

Airlie Gardens suffered the loss of an incredible 275 trees when Florence spun relentlessly overhead for days in September 2018. It wasn’t just the oaks and pines that suffered though. Those falling trees significantly damaged the understory including Airlie’s prized azaleas and camellias. Over the course of a six-week closure — the longest in the gardens’ public history — staff and volunteers cleaned cleared restored and replanted affected areas readying for the reopening. As part of the restoration new magnolia cultivars have been added increasing the diversity of the gardens’ flora while maintaining the character of the spaces. A fundraising effort provided resources to replace some lost azaleas and plan for future additions. The Butterfly House Bottle Chapel Pergola and beloved Airlie Oak were unharmed by the hurricane. The more than 200-year-old “Mystery Grave” was likewise unscathed by Florence though the area around it was severely damaged. The Airlie staff redid the grave area’s landscaping which now flows well with the adjacent Pergola and Bridal Walk.

Occupying just one acre of land at the western tip of Wrightsville Beach Park you might miss Harbor Way Gardens if you weren’t looking for it. It is an oasis of native plants and trees a peaceful stop on your jog around the Loop or visit to the summertime Farmer’s Market. After mourning the loss of 21 trees to Hurricane Florence the Harbor Island Garden Club members who volunteer their time to maintain Harbor Way Gardens among other garden club projects in Wrightsville Beach rolled up sleeves and set about restoration. Turning lost canopy cover into an opportunity to implement a new vision the members have moved several trees and transplanted shade-loving plants to new areas. A large live oak was donated by The Oleander Company and moved to the garden creating new shaded space. Also new to the garden is a new circular water feature and a labyrinth; a circuitous paved pathway designed to aid quiet reflection or prayer.

At the New Hanover County Arboretum Florence took down several large old trees reducing canopy and creating more sun-drenched open space. During the several weeks the Arboretum was closed following Hurricane Florence staff and volunteers introduced 15 new species to the gardens among them ornamental willows a native hornbeam and two varieties of persimmon trees. In partnership with the North Carolina Coastal Federation the Arboretum has installed an economical and environmentally friendly infiltration zone to manage excess storm water and serve as a community model for storm water mitigation.