A summer garden reminds me that beauty can grow from loss Entertainment/Life

While writing about Chris and Sharon Werner’s backyard in 2003, I learned a lesson about gardening and life that I’ve tried to keep in mind each time fate throws me a curveball.

The Werners have been gardening for many years now at their home just a few blocks from me. Like any south Louisiana property, their place has weathered its share of storms.

Everything in the Werners’ expanse of shrubs, trees and ornamentals looks just right, which is why it’s been profiled several times in newspapers and magazines. But beneath the pleasing pattern of paths, beds and water features, as Sharon pointed out, is a more complicated reality. Some of the garden’s focal points have evolved to answer bad luck.

A case in point is a big maple that once defined the Werners’ backyard, providing constant shade. After the maple died, the entire character of the yard changed overnight. Undaunted, Chris installed a fountain where the tree had once stood and adapted his plantings to accommodate more sun.

“That’s one thing a garden teaches you,” Sharon told me. “You have to accept that change is going to happen.”

I thought about Sharon’s advice two summers ago, when an afternoon storm split our big backyard elm in two. It had deeply shaded our patio, creating a cool retreat where we could eat outdoors. With the tree gone, our little paradise became a stretch of blinding sun. I couldn’t imagine that the loss would lead to anything good.

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It was my wife who had the pluck to pivot, putting all that extra light to work. She planted a pollinator garden, keen to varieties that thrive in abundant sun.

This summer, the space once shielded by the elm’s long branches is ablaze with color from cleomea and pentas, yarrows and a butterfly bush. Carolina jessamine now carpets an arbor once dismally bare because it stood in deep shadow. A pergola in one of our flower beds is so comically shaggy with cypress vine that I think of it as our botanical sheep dog.

We’re eating on the patio again, sheltered under a table umbrella from the day’s last light. Because of the new garden, we have new dinner guests, too. The other night, as I was finishing my salad, a hummingbird hovered near my ear, its flight as insistent as a beating heart. Butterflies arrive, too, with wings of orange, black and yellow that pulse back and forth like a geisha’s painted fan. Beef, plump as dirigibles, work the blooms while we eat.

Watching a big night moth come out the other evening to roam the cleome, I was moved to think that our new garden grew from loss.

It’s been a solace for me, in this anxious season for the country and the world, to remember that beauty can come from broken things. I have the Werners to thank for that.

Email Danny Heitman at [email protected]


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