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Transforming a Storm-Damaged Landscape

by Martha Coutts-Eisenberg

In January 1998, Randolph, in northern New Hampshire, experienced a once-in-a-hundred-year ice storm. Nearly three-quarters of the large trees lost their crowns, covered by 6 inches of ice. Imagine the sound of trees snapping and branches falling for five days as the ice got thicker and heavier. What a dreadful feeling to know there was nothing you could do to stop this destruction. The damage to the forests was incomprehensible. The Heirloom Apple tree that provided shade and fruit had fallen over from the weight. The Birches, Hemlocks and Pines had their crowns snapped completely off, their tops suspended in lower branches above the forest floor. The tallest Poplars and Maples were so deformed they couldn’t be saved. There was a lot of clean up to do. This event began years of transformation of this mountain property. With a clean palette our nature’s spirit is allowed to see a new vision. As the seeds of new ideas were planted and took root, the shock and trauma of this event receded; this is where the story of one garden begins.   The porch offers a majestic view of Mt. Madison and Mt. Adams which are part of the Presidential Range (Mount Washington) which forms a magnificent backdrop to this four season garden. The seasonal changes of the mountains are spectacular. Agepodium (goutweed) grew with abandon throughout this garden area. The roots were intertwined with perennials and shrubs; frustration trying to remove them finally won out. All perennials and shrubs were removed and disposed of. The solution to removing the Agepodium was to cover the garden bed with black plastic, then a three-inch layer of mulch for the duration of one year. Empty decorative pots as well as containers planted with annual and perennial combinations were placed in the bed to give it some interest. With a back drop like this who’s looking at mulch anyway?

May 2004: We kept this small shrub to give the space some interest while the black plastic cover and mulch did its work.

May 2005: The garden space was expanded to hold more plants and to be more proportional to the house, thus reducing the perennial green lawn. With the help of the garden’s owners, we designed a garden that would have interesting color combinations, leaves, needles and flowers as well as a minimal time commitment for care and a great view of the pond, which offers water for many species of birds, insects and wild life that come to use its resources. It isn’t unusual to see a bear. Yards of compost were added to the soil, hand turned, and plants placed and transplanted into the garden. Now it was time for some patience to watch the garden grow! Maintenance: As it turns out, after the first year weeds were minimal. Yearly pruning is required on a few of the shrubs and also to cut an edge on the garden. The garden is watered by a natural swale that is just behind the garden.

September 2005: The garden happily growing, blooming and sharing its scents. Sitting on the porch feeling the sun and breeze on your face, watching the clouds form a “chapeau’ on the mountain tops.
Spring 2007: Azalea — What beautiful color!

During the winter months a thick blanket of snow works its magic by protecting all of the vegetation from the intense winds. Come spring, the snow slowly melts away as the days warm. The sun intensifies and awakens the sleeping plants. In the spring there is always a question; “Is the Fringe Tree going to bloom this year?” This is a matter of patience and waiting: the excitement of spring so strong after a long winter. As you can see, there isn’t a problem. The location of the garden so far north can have a two-three week lag behind us here in Southern New Hampshire. September 2010: This Autumn the colors have been extremely vibrant. This garden received much precipitation over the year so it didn’t have the drought conditions we saw in our area. After five years of growth, the garden is beyond expectations and brings much joy to its family and friends. It has been twelve years since that horrific storm, which brought such devastation that winter. Birch trunks with tufted tops still dot the hillsides as well as many branches still hanging in the forest canopy. The forest is still in the process of recovery. Every year is a new experience with this wonderful garden. May your own gardens bring you joy.

About the Author

Martha Coutts-Eisenberg owner of Gardens in Time, a garden design and installation business. She is passionate about plants, design and organic land care practices. Her inspiration for gardening came from living in a south of France villa with an established Mediterranean garden. Since returning to the States she studied and became a UNH/Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and a certified Garden Consultant with the National Garden Clubs of America. She is also an Accredited Professional Land Care Specialist with the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) and a member of ELA. She is Committee Chair for Special Project Funding for the New Hampshire Master Gardeners Association which funds Master Gardeners who volunteer their time and knowledge to educate children and adults as well as beautify their communities. Martha lives with her husband and gardens in Francestown, NH.