Hurricane Irma took the best and biggest of Naples Botanical Garden – Naples Daily News
Watch a video of downtown Naples from inside a vehicle. (Video by Karen Haupt)
Brian Galligan is optimistic on camera, telling his audience damage to Naples Botanical Garden wasn’t too bad. That they were hoping to save existing plants and had propagated enough others to spring back to life by Oct. 1.
A few minutes earlier, however, as he gazed out over the entrance prow toward a rolling line of vegetation that resembled chopped salad, he conceded the enormity of the task: “It’s insane.”
The Naples Botanical Garden operates under the recognition that it will get mangled in a fit of nature because it is in hurricane-vulnerable Florida. That mangling, unfortunately, always seems to come at a heartbreaking time:
» Just two weeks ago, the garden had dedicated a bridge built to arch around a queensland bottle tree, a smooth gray-barked giant with the impressive habit of growing a trunk shaped like a Chianti bottle. On Tuesday, roots on the nearly 10,000-pound tree were facing the sky.
» A couple had planned their wedding, a lushly embraced event at the garden, for Sept. 8, the day before Hurricane Irma arrived in Florida. By the Tuesday before the big day, their carefully laid plans with caterers, florists and guests had begun to unravel.
The three phone pole-girth trees that welcome visitors to Kapnick Hall are all down, tossed to the ground as though a careless child had grown bored with them. One of the largest trees in the cultivated area, a red kapok tree donated by Collier Enterprises and moved from its property, was on its back, now a 60-foot-long piece of lumber.
The dense Florida garden that welcomes the public now had yawning holes of sunlight that was burning some of its shaded plants.
“It’s the legacy trees that went down,” said Gary Boivin, director of operations, stepping over the spiny cadaver of a tree that had landed on the entrance boardwalk. But he, like Galligan, was a voice of optimism. “Structurewise, we’re really good.”
In fact, the garden had only lost a board or two; in that regard, volunteers or staff largely will face the task of reinserting end plugs for its synthetic lumber boardwalks. All of them had popped out under the pressure of the hurricane, and workers were tossing them into what looked like a pile of giant Lego pieces.
Boivin was impressed at that the restructured and replanted Florida garden emerged unscathed: “I’m surprised at how well it fared, considering how new a garden it is.”
Liz Chehayl, curator of the Brian Holley collection, joined the group, hatted and garbed for the insults of mosquitoes, thorny trees and the return slap of branches pushed aside.
Naples Botanical Garden and its colleagues cooperate in a way the world’s political leaders can only dream about: in a circle of trading, plant backup, storage and propagation. It propagates plants for a group of other botanical gardens around the world in similar climates so these gardens have a backup if their own foliage is devastated.
Besides its Florida neighbors, Naples has relationships with the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in Grand Cayman, the Belize Botanic Gardens and the Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden in Thailand.
For this disaster, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens staff in Miami are coming to help. So is the arborist from the Missouri Botanical Gardens, where Naples’ current director, Donna McGinnis, served as senior vice president.
The immediate need is to stand up downed trees upright in hopes their roots are still good. If the tree’s integrity has been compromised — it’s been badly damaged or the root system is in trouble — it will be cut down.
Galligan has essentially duplicated the garden in cuttings or plantings to ensure it will not lose a specimen planting, although bringing it back to the mature size that was in the garden before Hurricane Irma may take a while.
Even the hardest-hit Brazilian garden will be replicated. In the meantime, garden staff are counting their blessings. This hurricane happened just days before the garden’s annual cleanup and maintenance closure, so it would have been closed for the next several weeks even without Hurricane Irma.
“We had just bought $10,000 worth of filler plants last week to install for the coming season. They hadn’t been delivered yet,” Galligan said.
Nor had the upcoming sculpture exhibition, “Blessing of the Animals,” been installed. It isn’t due to arrive until Sept. 23, said Kara Laufer, director of business development. She wasn’t sure whether the exhibition might be postponed.
One thing is certain. The granddaughter of Win Turner, the garden’s neighbors, a longtime neighborhood supporter, has scheduled her wedding there Sept. 30.
“We’ll be ready,” Galligan said
The Naples Botanical Garden is looking for volunteers for everything from sweeping to planting. Work is expected to start Monday. All abilities are appreciated. To help, email:
Because the garden’s email server is down, it can be accessed only two hours a day, but it will be checked for additions. Please add your phone number for easy contact and skills, if desired.
Restoring your garden
Brian Galligan, director of horticulture for Naples Botanical Garden, offers some help for homeowners who have had tree and plant damage from Hurricane Irma:
» Many trees and shrubs can be raised upright. Ease them back into their original spots and restore the earth.
» Don’t be too hasty to trim damaged limbs from palms and other trees.
“They’re still contributing energy to the plant,” Galligan said. “If you can stand the look, try to wait until they put out new shoots.”
» If tillandsia (air plants) have fallen from trees, stand them upright wherever you plan to restore them. Orchids, too, should be picked up and affixed to branches.
» Don’t be discouraged if you have to replant. Because of the hot September weather in Florida, “there’s still plenty of growing time,” he said.
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