A Happy Ending, in the Garden

I came late to gardening, only really getting started in the last dozen years or so.

There was no real family tradition of growing flowers at my house or, if there was one, I was oblivious.

My husband and I have learned mostly by trial and error . . . lots of trials, lots and lots of errors. But we had some successes and were pleased.

Then, five years ago, our area was hit by flooding. The lake we live on reached record-high water levels and stayed there for 6 weeks. (As you know, you can click on the small photos to see more detail)

Our lawns and gardens were covered in water and sludge for weeks, and everything died.

Everything died.


We had a tabula rasa. A nasty, brown blank slate.


So, you will understand the awe I feel now, all spring and summer, when beauty happens here. I am dumbstruck that we have accomplished so much, with so little knowledge but hard work and patience.

The flowers amaze me, enthrall me.


This pergola stands where the dirt was in the previous photo. It’s now blanketed in honeysuckle and wisteria.

In spite of all this beauty, only one part of the garden matters to some people.

We grow catnip under the protective cover of staked wire baskets so “some people” won’t rip it out by the roots and eviscerate the little plants.

They get drunk on catnip, I find my intoxication elsewhere.

77 thoughts on “A Happy Ending, in the Garden

    • Peonies fascinate me–How could I possibly grow something so perfect?! But they are getting their butts whipped by these high winds we’re having.

  1. Such an wonderful transformation. And such blissed out cats! Did the sludge have to be removed before you could replant your garden or was it incorporated into the new garden?

  2. How glorious and what a marvellously happy ending (or start of a new chapter) following what must have been a devastating experience 🙂

    • Thanks, Liz. In some ways it was fun to start from scratch, with that blank slate, but I still mourn some of the things we lost, like the lilacs and a climbing hydrangea. They were old friends!

      • Yes, I can imagine how beautiful and beloved those were. How nice that you have lovely new things in their place – I am impressed that you have been able to get your wisteria growing so prolifically so quickly.

        • The wisteria has grown like mad–it’s only been there for less than two years. We haven’t gotten any blooms yet but it’s nice just as a vine.

          • It’s one of those plants where the foliage is just as nice as the flowers isn’t it. And how exciting to have that anticipation of blooms to come 😀🌸

    • I love the pergola, too. It was my husband’s idea and he built it with help of two strong younger guys. The vines on top give a nice shady spot!

  3. You are fortunate to still have your home after that flood. Sometimes the water and sludge will bring nutrients that the ground needs with it. Sometimes, not. You have a lovely garden and one very drunk cat. 🙂 What a great idea to put a wire basket over it. Love the pergola. Happy gardening. 🙂

    • We ARE fortunate that the house wasn’t damaged worse than it was. We had issues to deal with but we managed. I think the sludge did improve the soil on the lakeside of the house. In the front yard, it all evaporated very slowly and created a thick, nasty paste that killed everything. There was no saving that!

  4. Coming back from a flood is the worst! We’ve personally been very lucky, but our area has had a couple big hits over the last several years!
    Your yard looks great…so colorful. And I love the pictures of the drunken kitties 🙂

    • Our area gets flash floods from rivers in the spring–where there are ice jams. Those don’t affect us at all. This flood was slow and inexorable, and raised the level of a huge lake (120 miles long) by many feet. It took WEEKS to get back to normal–I hope never to see that again!

  5. There is nothing like gardening and despite my complaining this year (whining???) I love having flowers outdoors to look at and cut. And fresh veggies on the table. That flood is amazing! Lake Robinson is a reservoir and so the level is controlled. Actually, part of our lawn isn’t ours and they could flood the lake to that level. So our lovely lawn won’t turn into sludge… Did you get insurance money for that?

    • Whining?? Not you! We did not have flood insurance. It’s prohibitively expensive because of where we are. On the other hand, paying for all these damages was expensive, too!

  6. wow – that must have been a heartbreaking time… and if the yard looked like that when the water went down, I hate to ask about the inside of the house…

    Amazing gardens, and a very happy, cute cat. 🙂

    • It was a horrible time. We lived for 6 weeks at a really ratty motel and the cats had to be in cages at the vet’s all that time! The good news was that, expect for the garage and one interior room, the house was mostly unaffected because it is built up about steps from the yard level. We were lucky that way!

      • That must have been a relief to get back in there and find the house mostly OK. I always feel so sorry for the families I see on TV after a flood – with water and mud all over everything in the their homes. There is something to be said for stilts. 🙂 Poor kitties must have been absolutely miserable.

    • Right after I put the camera down, the big gray cat did a huge leap to try and catch one of the blooms on that dark red peony! He got hollered at! I love the pergola, too–good things can come out of bad!

  7. Making a garden from nothing has to be one of the greatest creative accomplishments going – I still remember the first time I dug over a patch of arid soil and put in a few flower seedlings and then tended them carefully, watching, waiting, loving – I’ve been hooked ever since! You shared the basket covering for nepeta with me a season or two back and it was a great success here. Love the photos Kerry, what a gorgeous summer idyll you have made. I do hope the lake water stays where it is supposed to from now on – that must have been a scary event!

    • The good news about the lake level is that it was NEVER that high before–I think it was 2 whole feet higher than it had ever been–and we’ve had no scares at all since then. My husband deserves most of the credit for envisioning the new garden plan and he built the pergola, with a little help from some younger guys!

  8. Oh My God!! You have a green thumb Kerry! I’m in love with your garden & you’re amazing!! I’m sure it must have been hard but you’ve returned with a bang with those magical hands of yours:)

    • Thanks, Divya! It always surprises me how fast it all turned around. Five years doesn’t seem like a long time to go from absolutely nothing to what is a really established look.

    • Honestly, it’s a lot of dumb luck, Lisa. We put things in weird places, they don’t thrive, and we move them. Tall stuff grows in front of short stuff and sometimes two things try to grow in one spot. I try to remember what works and repeat it. I talk to everything like it is my sister. Do you think that helps?

  9. Leave it you to create such beauty after such devastation!!! No wonder you enjoy this so much. Charley is shaking her head though…she claims all cats are drug addicts! Xo Johanna

  10. The thought of what you must have suffered in that flood makes me catch my breath! My parents suffered twice from flash flooding before work was done on the road next to their house. Dad also dug a French drain round the house just to make sure they didn’t get inundated again. I love gardening and find it so therapeutic and calming. The amount of work you must have put in to restore your garden after the damage must have been colossal! I love the photos of your flowers – all beauties!

    • I think the idea of flash flooding is absolutely terrifying! The flood we had was very different–slow and inexorable, both rising and retreating. We did have to put a lot of work into the gardens but, as you say, it was very therapeutic to put life back into that dismal landscape!

  11. Magnificent renewal. I have lots of hosta too and like the way they hold the ground. I don’t garden as much because I’m still nervous about the Lyme disease I contracted several years ago. However, I do indulge in a few pops of color here and there.

    • I’d be nervous if I’d dealt with Lyme disease, too! That’s another nice thing about hostas–they don’t need you to be out there, paying attention to them. They’re happy on their own!

  12. What a tremendous change! As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and your photos tell the story! How wonderful to see all the new growth and beautiful change! Congratulations! and enjoy! 🙂

    • Thank you! Some day, I need to put together a real slideshow, for myself, of the before, during, and after photos from that flooding. When I go back and see how bad it really was, I am even more thrilled with the flowers we have now!

  13. Your garden is beautiful. I too, like to garden but because of water restrictions in California, I cannot plant like I used too.

    • Yes, I’ve been reading other bloggers write about gardening problems in CA–I guess it means getting creative with drought-resistant plants and re-setting expectations.

  14. Now I have pergola envy. I love clematis, but it’s not something that’s deer proof, so I don’t even try with it. However, our peony must taste awful as that has survived untouched for 8 years.

    • I love our pergola. It creates a lovely area of dappled shade, with the vines on top. My husband built it, with the help of a couple younger guys and it really adds so much to the look of the yard!

  15. Flooding sure can be destructive to landscaping. It’s amazing that you were able to get them so established in only five years.Your gardens look wonderful.

    • Yes, I think that’s what gets to me–how fast the gardens bounced back. Right after the waters receded, it seemed we’d be dealing with that scorched earth look forever but, really, nature has a way of asserting herself!

    • Thanks, Jean. Those cats are so funny–they forget the catnip is there and then, all of a sudden, enough of the little sprigs grow through the wire basket to remind them, and they go haywire! Then they forget again!

  16. What an amazing transformation. Seeing the aftermath of the floods, it is no wonder you are drinking in your garden success. It’s lovely. I smiled at all your kitty pictures. That is one happy cat!

    Slinky is still sleeping near her nepeta plant out back, but since writing about it, I’ve found four more volunteer plants in the front garden. Mouse loves the bonus crop.

    • You know, everyone talks about catnip taking over and volunteering far and wide and we simply have not had that experience. We actually go and buy new plants every year for these silly cats! It’s a small price, though, for how very happy it makes them!

  17. Somehow I missed this post the day it came out…I’m so glad I saw it now. To go from the water and sludge to such beauty is amazing. And the pictures of kitty and catnip are priceless.

    • Thanks, Susan! What amazes me is that we could go from, literally, nothing to such a fine landscape in 5 years. I thought it would take so much longer–that was one of the things that brought me way down low at the time.

  18. Wow your garden is gorgeous. The flooding looks incredibly scary and devastating, but boy did you make something incredible out of the overly soaked earth.

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