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"A Time to Reflect and be Thankful," by the Whistling Gardener

As the season winds down and the garden is put to bed, I can’t help but pause and reflect on the past several months. It was a roller coaster year for me with lots of promise, a major setback, and then a fantastic recovery. Fasten your seatbelts and hang on…
Steve Smith’s fire-damaged back yard. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

As the season winds down and the garden is put to bed, I can’t help but pause and reflect on the past several months. It was a roller coaster year for me with lots of promise, a major setback, and then a fantastic recovery.

Fasten your seatbelts and hang on…

Mild weather near the end of winter enabled me to get a jump on my soil preparation for my raised beds, and by March I already had all my cool season veggies planted and growing quite nicely.

The rest of the mixed border beds had been cleaned out, fertilized, and mulched for the year. All I had to do was sit back and watch everything wake up and start growing. Life was good, or so it seemed.

Then on May 28th around 12:30 am, my wife hobbled into the bedroom and woke me up (she had been sleeping downstairs while she waited for a hip replacement) to inform me that there was a fire in the back yard.

The neighbor’s chicken coop had caught on fire, which wasn’t a huge space, but by the time I got up and slipped on my flip flops, the fire had spread to my tool shed, engulfing most of the veggie beds and surrounding landscape.

Thankfully, between the Marysville Police and Fire Departments the fire was contained before it spread to either my neighbor’s or my house, but the damage was done.

Once the sun came up and I surveyed the site, 128 feet of fence was gone - half of my back yard was either gone or singed to the point of needing major pruning. Virtually every vegetable was incinerated, including many of the boards of the raised beds, and all of the gardening tools I had collected over my lifetime were reduced to ingots of aluminum or just destroyed beyond recognition. It was a sobering scene, to say the least.

Like any good farmer, the only course of action at this point was to pick up the pieces and start replanting. We replaced the fence and several structures in the nursery that were adjacent to my backyard.

The raised bed boards that had been charred were replaced and I proceeded to replant the garden. Much to my surprise, the potatoes re-sprouted, but that was the only thing that recovered in the garden.

The fire was so hot that it sterilized the soil and even after replanting, nothing wanted to grow until I applied liberal amounts of worm castings, which restored the soil microorganisms.

In the end, I had one of the best gardens ever despite the fact that many of the veggies were planted very late. It was all a tribute to the resilience of nature and the tenacity of the gardener.

By the end of the season, I had replaced the shed (which we had been talking about removing anyway) with a cute little “she shed,” added a colorful arbor with decorative iron moon gates accented with dragonflies, and purchased several “new and improved” tools to replace the ones that had been consumed in the fire.

I now have quite a collection of metal tool heads (minus the wooden and fiberglass handles) that are just waiting to be incorporated into some form of garden art.

At the time of writing this column, you can hardly tell there was ever a fire. I still need to replace several of the sixteen feet tall Emerald Green Arborvitae that burned up, but overall, life is good once again and for that I am extremely thankful.

I am now looking toward spring when I will repair the last remnants of the fire damage and move on like it never happened. Tragedy always brings opportunity.

As the season winds down and the garden is put to bed, I can’t help but pause and reflect on the past several months. It was a roller coaster year for me with lots of promise, a major setback, and then a fantastic recovery. Fasten your seatbelts and hang on…

Replanted mixed border after the fire. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net

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