Hurricane Ian & The Forgotten Field Trip

Before I get into the heart of this post, I’d like to take a few moments to write about Hurricane Ian. Joe and I live in southeast Florida, where we were placed in a tropical storm warning.

We experienced several feeder bands, which resulted in about 8” of rain, some gusty winds, and a 24-hour tornado watch. During that time, we experienced about a dozen actual tornado warnings. None of these touched down in our area. At the same time, the canal — actually a river — in our backyard never rose above the seawall. We are extremely relieved and fortunate — and we truly have nothing about which to complain.

 Yet, we cannot stop thinking of friends, family, and so many others who live about 120 miles west of us, along the southwest coast of the state. Our hearts and thoughts are with all of you — not only through the storm, but also as you begin recovery and rebuilding.

In the days following the storm, it felt as if a very somber mood settled across our area. Perhaps, it was my projecting my own emotions on the situation — but I also think many people had a similar nagging thought: There but for the grace of God — or the unseen & random movements of upper-level weather patterns — go I. Hurricane Ian just wasn’t our turn, but the next storm could be.

Wherever you are, please be strong and be safe and be patient. The storm was one headache, but this next phase will require so much more from all of us.

The flower posted above is a rain lily. It bloomed the day after the clouds and rain from Hurricane Ian moved away from Fort Lauderdale. It sort of gave me a sense of hope and promise. I hope it does the same for you.

While experiencing the feeder bands from Hurricane Ian, I spent what felt like hours scrolling through photos on my phone. My plan was to delete some and organize the rest into folders. You know, a rainy day project. That’s when I discovered photos from a January field trip to Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach . . . photos that I had planned on sharing with you in January! Have I mentioned January???

Looking at the photos reminded me that not only was I absentminded, but also that that January day in a botanical garden was far more beautiful than this September day of gusty rain and tornado warnings.

Our plan that day was to take a drive just to get out of the house, to do something in West Palm Beach, which is located in the county just north of us. At one point, we found ourselves on Military Trail, a road that runs along the far west end of Palm Beach International Airport. Joe saw the sign for Mounts first and said, “Isn’t that the botanical garden you’ve wanted to see?” Before I could answer, he made a u-turn and pulled into the parking lot.

Mounts Botanical Garden has 5,000+ species filling 25 display gardens on 16 acres surrounding Lake Orth, pictured above. Here are a few highlights.

On the day of our visit, Mounts was hosting a Lego sculpture exhibit by artist Sean Kenney, part of his Nature POP! Project. His colorful and fanciful pieces, like this rose, were placed throughout the landscape.

I was especially excited when I spotted this vanilla bean orchid. For years, I’ve had two growing in my yard and I have yet to see a single flower — and, therefore, a single seedpod, which is also known as a vanilla bean. This one, though, was proof that vanilla bean orchids are possible in South Florida and not some sort of gardening myth.

Speaking of myths. . . I’ve only ever seen jade vine in plant catalogs and never in a landscape. It’s like the Big Foot of the South Florida garden world. Then, there it was in Mounts — lush and rambling up and over an arbor, that unmistakeable color on full display.

A permanent exhibit is the enormous replicas of Moai sculptures, based on those discovered on Easter Island.

One of my least favorite plants for the Florida landscape is Snake Plant. Northern gardeners will know it as a houseplant. Here, though, it can grow wildly and become invasive when planted in the ground. At Mounts, though, it seems quite naturalized and content — even flowering.

One of the most interesting trees I spotted was the Sausage Tree, a native of tropical Africa. The large, dangling fruit are enjoyed by some wildlife, but are poisonous to people if eaten raw. Once cooked, the pulp and the seeds are edible — although I would like to know how many people died before someone thought to cook it.

Hands down, my favorite display garden was the vegetable garden. From the moment we saw the Lego sculpture . . .

. . . to the colorful rhubarb stems . . .

. . . to the architecturally elegant structure of cabbage.

As we exited the garden, I spotted one last mystery flower — a single flower cluster growing among the twisted vines covering a wooden footbridge. I loved its crepe paper-like blooms, but I couldn’t find any identification information.

As amazing as the day was then, it was just as amazing to look back on. I hope you enjoyed this journey into my memory — or lapsed memory, as the case may be.

Wherever you are and whatever climatological, geological, or emotional storm is impacting your life, be strong, be patient, be prepared, be safe. 

17 thoughts on “Hurricane Ian & The Forgotten Field Trip

  1. January seems so long ago. How wonderful that you rediscovered your trip photos. It is a bit like finding money in the pocket of a coat… no wait, we don’t wear coats in Florida. It is like finding money in the zipper compartment of your beach bag you haven’t used in a year because you live a bicycle ride from the ocean, but never seem to get there as often as you thought you would when you moved down here from the cold north where you used to wear coats and forget money in the pockets. Glad you had a fun field trip. The vanilla orchid bloom gives me hope. I sure do have a lot of vanilla vine too.
    Hope to see photos from your next road trip adventure now that the weather is turning a few degrees cooler.

    • Hi Neil. You hit the nail on the head with your description. At the moment, I’m enjoying more days of dry, less humid air and cooler temperatures in the morning and at night. Perfect for road trips. Good luck with your vanilla bean orchids. 🙂

  2. Kevin, so glad that you both are safe.
    The devastation on the other coast is incomprehensible. Years ago I strolled Sanibel beaches for a few hours and there are no words to describe that loss to both humans and marine life. If we humans don’t “get it” regarding climate change, and make change, we will continue to witness Mother Nature’s Wrath.
    Thank you for the beautiful photos of the botanical gardens. Loved the whimsey of the Lego gardeners, and the somber yet steadfast faces of the Easter Island replicas.
    Keep well and safe. Diane

    • Hi Diane. The destruction is indescribable — and when one considers the monumental task ahead, it’s overwhelming. Recently, Joe and I took a drive through the Keys and we were shocked how many buildings were closed due to damage, under construction to repair damage, and how much the landscape had permanently changed since Hurricane Irma — five years ago. I agree with your comments on climate change. I can do my part. You can do yours — but until governments and corporations tackle the issue seriously, I fear we, as individuals, are spitting in the wind. Take care — and be safe in your part of the world.

      • Kevin, I am very familiar with the “spitting in the wind” syndrome. I feel this way every time I vote. Years ago, when I worked one block from Congress, and frequently walked the grounds on my lunch hour, I looked up at that grand building and knew then I was powerless to change anything that went on within. Although I vote…I only see the US continuing sink into the mire. “All we are is dust in the wind…” Diane

      • Diane… I understand that feeling. I’ve felt that way for years, now. This year, though, I decided to volunteer as a canvasser in my neighborhood and put my rage/disgust to work for something positive. I don’t know if it makes a difference, but I feel as if I’m at least doing my small part in my corner of the world — especially in these midterm elections. I also get inspired by younger generations, like the young people who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Their energy and drive to work for change is incredible. Peace.

  3. It is so wonderful to hear that you didn’t experience any damage from Ian, but I do think it’s sobering to be aware of how many people in your home state are truly suffering. The images and videos we see, mostly through CNN, aren’t relatable at all. I think we in the dry Southwest have a tendency to forget the damaging power and strength that is let loose with a hurricane’s wind and rain. We all focus right now on Florida, but when we contemplate global climate change we know that disasters are going to come at us all. It is an uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability.

    But we need to live in the beauty where we can, and that’s what you have shared in your gorgeous photos from your “field trip.” Your photos are beautiful. And who wouldn’t love the walk amongst the Legos! I have a newly acquired “love” for snake plant. It was so common that for a long time I overlooked it. I don’t know why, but in the last year I have come to like it very much. It survives our heat just fine. But it does look stressed compared to the photo you shared. I think your climate really gives such beautiful color to the most ordinary plants. Nothing ordinary about what you’ve shared here, though, my friend!

    • Hi Debra. Yes, the images from the Gold Coast are heart-wrenching and astounding. We have friends there and they all experienced a mixed bag of damage. Here’s my hope… when I look at the aerial footage, my eyes are drawn to the buildings still standing and seemingly untouched, while the entire neighborhood is gone. I think engineers/scientists/planners/architects need to dissect those structure to understand why they stood when so many others didn’t. I also think it’s time (again) to have a talk about land use — and to better utilize it with climate change. For example, marshland can do an incredible job of absorbing storm surge. Also, you might be interested in this link — a South Florida town that did remarkably well. Lessons to be learned as we redesign our lives.

      • Thank you for the very interesting article. I just skimmed it, but I’ll go back and read more carefully. I’m fascinated.

        When I looked at the aerial views of neighborhoods destroyed by Ian’s fury, l I noticed was how far (deep) the storm surge encroached block after block. I can’t imagine. I think the dialogue about where will people rebuild is fascinating for those of us watching and waiting, but a terrifying conversation for people with their entire lives “on hold.” Similar climate change conversations are being held on the west coast with a question as to how many times people “should” be allowed to rebuild in fire impact zones. I have no answers to anything! But I am deeply worried about delayed response to the questions we just have to be asking!

  4. We have seen terrible footage of the destruction caused by Ian, and feel for those who have to rebuild their lives. You were very lucky to escape serious damage.
    On a lighter note, your visit to the gardens was very interesting. The flowers are so colourful and I’m not familiar with any of them. I enjoyed reading your post, it was a bit of a learning experience for me.

    • Hello Jane! I’m sure Ian news has disappeared from your headlines, so I’ll just give you an update. Power has been restored and a temporary bridge was completed to link Sanibel Island with the mainland. The immediate coastal areas are devastated and that will take time to rebuild. Now, though, the fighting is beginning… local, county, and state officials arguing about who is responsible for paying/repairing what… and battles with insurance companies. Because of the number of storms that have hit Florida in recent years, Florida is in a bit of an insurance crisis. Customers have been dropped, companies have shut down, and word games on what is exactly covered and not covered are the name of the game. I remember when we went through Sandy in NY, many homeowners found some damage not covered because they weren’t covered for ground movement — never mind that the ground moved because of a storm surge flood. And so it goes… That’s why flowers and botanical nurseries are necessary elixirs.

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