Gardening In The Cone Of Anxiety


This isn’t the post I had planned to write. That original post has to wait for another day because of Hurricane Dorian — and before I get into the meat of this post, please, understand that I am in no way making light of the situation in the Bahamas. That is tragic. That is devastating — and I’m not even sure those words are strong enough to fully capture what the people there have experienced and are continuing to face each day.

It’s just that as I was working on that original post, everything here came to a stop as we too prepared for Dorian. The Bahamas are about 180 miles from where I live in South Florida — and there, but for the grace of God and/or a random ballet of upper atmospheric conditions, go I.

Prior to the start of the season, Joe and I had the palm trees trimmed so older fronds and coconuts wouldn’t pose a hazard during a storm. We also stocked up on essential supplies — like bottled water, canned goods, and batteries — and made sure the generator was in top shape. We also hoped it would be a hurricane-free season.

It’s a strange thing, though, when your home is placed inside the cone of uncertainty. The category number of the storm pretty much determines how to respond. Cat 1, for example, barely requires anything — some lightweight outdoor items are brought inside. The ante is upped with each mile per hour of wind speed.

In the case of Dorian, a category 5 storm that had been unpredictable from the start, our being in the cone of uncertainty also placed us squarely in the cone of anxiety. A wiggle and a wobble could result in us becoming Puerto Rico after Maria, the Florida Panhandle after Michael, the Florida Keys after Irma, and so many other places after so many other named storms.

I packed up the garden. Small potted plants and rootings were tucked under shrubs against the foundation of the house. Heavier pots were knocked on their sides or brought to sheltered areas closer to the house. The potting bench was emptied and placed on its back. The sheds and garage were each tightly packed with stuff. Outdoor furniture was brought inside. Storm shutters were closed and locked. We did the same at Joe’s parents’ house.

About the only thing I couldn’t do was remove the orchids that I had tied to trees. They would have to weather the storm on their own.

It took Joe and me three days to complete everything. In addition to sore thumbs, aching arms, cramping back muscles, and complete physical exhaustion, there’s a mental strain. It’s difficult to not let images from those previous storms intrude and distract, to not be overwhelmed by the feeling of powerlessness. Keeping the anxiety at bay can be a 24-hour job.

Sometimes, it wins.

As I was doing my best to secure the garden, I started to question everything. Why do I even want to live in Florida? Why do I have so many plants? Why do I keep rooting things? Why am I still caring for plants that friends and neighbors expressed an interest in years ago? Why do I have so many things on the potting bench?

Don’t even get me started on the number of black pots I’ve hoarded after each nursery purchase. I’ve held on to many of these since my NY gardening days — and I know this because they still have the stickers with the plant names and prices for specimens that don’t grow in South Florida. Since moving to the tropics, I’ve added to the collection. Why do I have more black pots than a nursery?

At some point, I start making a mental checklist of what I need to do to downsize the garden, to make my gardening life — and, therefore, my hurricane-prep life — simpler. It’s at this point the pit of my stomach convinces me to sell everything, to let someone else buy the house and the yard and to let this hurricane preparation be his or her job. I want to live in a high-rise building where the only thing I have to do is move the furniture off of the terrace, close a few shutters, and get to an airport and fly out of harm’s way.

I mutter this out loud. Joe hears me and then responds, “It’s the storm talking. You really don’t mean that.”

“I do, “ I say. “I really mean it. This is too much. I’m tired of packing and unpacking and of always feeling that just as we’re settled, we have to start over.”

“I know,” he said. “But you love gardening and flowers. You’re happy when you’re growing things.”

“I’ll be happy doing other things,” I counter. “I’ll put a single potted plant on a terrace and do something else.”

“That wouldn’t make you happy,” he said, and then added, “But you do have too many black pots.”

Everyone needs to have a Joe in his or her life.

Ultimately, the high pressure dome that prevented Dorian from moving shifted eastward, and the storm was able to lift north. South Florida simply had a few gusts. Ironically, as strange as it is to be in the cone of uncertainty, it’s just as strange to have been spared. It’s amazing how quickly and easily we forget about the anxiety that consumed all of us just a few days ago.

The images coming from the Bahamas have forced me to stick to the mental checklist I made before the storm. First, I tossed the plants that I had kept for others for too long. Second, I drastically reduced the number of black nursery pots in my collection. I admit, that felt liberating.

And Joe was right. Gardening makes me happy. New greenery emerging from the stem of this alocasia after the storm makes me happy.

A bromeliad flower spike that bloomed in the middle of the chaos makes me happy.

Watching the salmon-colored flower show on this aloe plant makes me happy.

Even the process of emptying out the shed, bringing potted plants out from under the shrubs, redecorating the potting bench, and returning larger pots to their upright position makes me happy.

That happiness, though, is tempered by a very tense sense of relief. In the back of my mind, in the back of all of our minds here, is the thought that this just wasn’t our time. There will be other hurricanes. There will be other cones of uncertainty, and there will be anxiety. At some point, we know that it will be our turn to be the Bahamas after Dorian.

20 thoughts on “Gardening In The Cone Of Anxiety

  1. Hi Kevin!

    I know your post wasn’t meant to be funny, but I have to tell you that I started out feeling anxious. It’s contagious, you know. When someone expresses a really fearful dose of anxiety, I feel a war going on in the pit of my stomach.

    The more you wrote, especially with Joe’s responses, the more I laughed. Just a chuckle at first, then a belly laugh, then — I was HOWLING!

    I felt for you Kevin, make no mistake! But then, I pictured the roles reversed. I’ve seen you in action, remember; I KNOW you would be calm and say the exact same things that Joe said. The Voice of Reason!

    I’m so glad that you have Joe and that he has you. Kindred Spirits — a beautiful thing! 💚

    Love, Kathy P. S. I want a Joe!

    • Hi Kathy. Thanks for your kind words. It’s funny — at work, it was easier to remain calm during a crisis. During a weather event in the garden, not so much. 🙂

  2. You are so right: everyone needs a Joe in his/her life. I am so deeply glad that you have Joe in yours, and just as deeply glad that Joe has the likes of you in his life! You are a singularly beautiful soul as well. No matter the storm or threat, neither of you will let the other fall. Keep gardening, cutey. Hugs from the North, Cathey

    • Hi PBM. That particular bromeliad is one of my favorites. As with most things gardening, though, it hasn’t done what I had planned it to do. I thought a bed of these would be lovely — all flowering at once. The bromeliads had another idea, blooming one at a time. I’m glad to read that you also survived Dorian. In many ways, NC received a stronger dose than South Florida because of the position of the storm. Be well!

  3. I understood every feeling you expressed. I, too, felt the same during the many scares of hurricanes I suffered, worked and worried through. My first real storm was Hurricane Andrew. I was living in Homestead at the time and lost nearly everything. I purchased a well built older home, in Homestead, on 1/2 acre (within the city limits, not the Redland). During the next 23 years I planted native habitats on my land and scattered some orchids on my trees. With each hurricane warning came increased anxiety. I went through about 5 storms. I was also tasked with helping prepare for storms and the cleanup after storms at Fairchild. Hard, sweaty, anxiety filled work. I was not amused and eventually felt the need to move to an area where I could feel secure that my gardening, planting work would not be destroyed. I really hope you and Joe never have to go through a bad storm. Best wishes, Mary.

    • Hi Mary. I can’t even imagine what it was like for you during Andrew — and to also prepare Fairchild! It was stressful enough for me to help prep the garden center of a box store before a storm a few years ago. I completely understand your anxiety and your reason for moving. Maybe preparing is a way for us to give ourselves some sort of sense of security, as false as it may be — perhaps, a way to convince ourselves that we have some sort of power over nature; that at least, we tried.I’m so happy that you found a place where your gardening is safe. My one regret is that I never had a chance to meet you when you lived here. Be well. 🙂

  4. I live in a tsunami zone with tsunami evacuation signs and lots of scare stories in the local paper. (Fear sells papers.) When I see the horrific Bahamas photos, I imagine my garden looking like that.

    >

    • Hello Tangly Cottage. Yes — it’s the scare stories. Leading up to the storm, I spoke with friends and family in New York — and they were getting a completely different spin on Dorian than we were. I think the Weather Channel is one of the worst offenders, and some local news stations don’t help. We tended to limit our news viewing to local forecasts only — not images of runs on plywood and water — and one weather forecaster in particular. She keeps a very cool head, and her deliver is calm and factual. We like to keep her close during hurricane season. I do hope you and your garden remain safe in your part of the world. Be well.

  5. I certainly thought of you and Joe as Dorian was threatening, and felt a relief when I saw the hurricane turn and knew you were out of direct danger. I appreciate hearing how you prepare, as I must say it didn’t really occur to me that you’d even attempt to “prepare” the garden. I’m sure much of what you did was with nervous energy and wouldn’t have made much difference had there been a direct hit, but I could feel the anxiety even reading about your movement.

    We have conversations about what we might do if we have tremendous earthquake damage in our future. When we were younger we had one response. Now older, quite another. We all have to think about the future and what we’d do if we lost it all and had to start over, but there’s also so much tied to our contentedness now, and I, too, can’t imagine downsizing and giving up my garden. I do love the potting bench and it was a good time to tidy up, I suppose. Such a beautiful garden, and I’m glad all is well, my friend.

    • Hi Debra. Whenever I see anything on the news about California, I immediately worry about you! Earthquakes, fires, mudslides — I think gardening in California would be too much for me. As I was writing this piece, I realized that each one of us has to deal with the randomness of whatever nature throws at us. Preparing is great, but in the end — I remember during Hurricane Irma when forecasters had initially predicted the rapidly strengthening storm was making a beeline for South Florida and the negotiations begin. First, it’s please let the power stay on. Then it becomes please, let the garden be okay. Please, let the trees stay up. Please, let the roof stay on. Please, let’s get out of this alive. It certainly keeps things in perspective. Be well. 🙂

  6. You were right about black plastic pots. I think they breed in the corner of my garden called the ‘Dead Pots’ Society’. Yesterday my husband and I cleared them out, keeping just a few to use for cuttings, and took them to the tip. I was very glad to see them go.
    I don’t think you’d be at all happy to give up your garden. Just seeing new shoots and flowers is an uplifting experience you wouldn’t have on a balcony. Yes, gardening makes you happy.

    • Hi Jane. I never thought about the the black plastic pots breeding! I like that idea because then I don’t have to consider myself a hoarder. 🙂 We are both made happy by gardening — and I think gardening is a way to make nearly everyone on the planet happy. It’s the wonder of it all — and maybe what the world needs now is some garden time. Be well! 🙂

  7. I’m so glad you all were spared! (Sorry I’ve been MIA lately, much going on and you know how summer is, even Up Here) Joe is right, it was the storm talking; somehow I can’t imagine you giving up that gorgeous garden for a high-rise and a few plants on a balcony, LOL. I know you weren’t exactly talking about Lefrak City but still… 😉

    • Hello, M’Lady. No, it’s not Lefrak City, but I also can’t discount that at some point it may be a building. Aging joints and aching muscles and all that… Hope all is well in your part of the world. 🙂

  8. It is amazing how we still garden when we don’t have to with the craziness and uncertainty of Mother Nature. I contemplate similar things occasionally, and I don’t even have hurricanes to contend with. But gardening does bring so much joy, though, and I couldn’t imagine life without it. I am so very glad the hurricane didn’t hit you guys!

    • Hi Indie. The only way to think of it is that people are crazy — or maybe it’s something more genetic that harkens back to hunter and gatherer days, a survival mechanism, or the delusion that we will not lot Nature win… Whatever it is, I too am relieved that we were spared and that hurricane season is almost over… Hope you are well and safe in your part of the world. 🙂

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