Fire and Water

Below are summary reports on the impact of recent natural disasters on public gardens and homes of people in the Garden Conservancy network. This page began as a report on the impact of hurricanes, especially hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and expanded in October upon receiving news of wildfires in northern California. 

More information on the hurricane impacts on various gardens and how you can help, including a Garden to Garden Disaster Repsonse Center, are available on the American Public Gardens Association website.

October 12 report on wildfires in northern California
Seventeen wildfires continue to rage in Napa and Sonoma, with ash and smoke spreading much further. The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek has closed temporarily due to smoke and poor air quality. Several Garden Conservancy members have homes in the affected areas; we are anxiously awaiting information on their status. Our West Coast education director, David Seyms, reports that his own house and family are fine, but that the situation is dire all around. Below, a sample photo he sent illustrates the situation "after the fire." Our best wishes to all affected. If you'd like to help out, Garden Collage magazine has published a helpful list of suggestions.

September 29 update on the impact of Hurricane Irma:
The Cummer Museum and Gardens in Jacksonville, FL, with whom our Open Days program has partnered for several years, reported severe damage from Hurricane Irma. A notice on their website said “the historic Cummer Gardens sustained extensive damage. The lower tier of all three formal garden spaces, which are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, remained submerged for more than 24 hours, resulting in the uprooting of plants, detached railing along the river, broken lighting, pervasive salinization of the soil, large amounts of debris, and significant impact to much of the physical infrastructure, including drainage, electric, fencing, and the well that services the landscape.” Shown below is an image, before and during Irma, of the museum's signature garden feature. A Garden Reconstruction Fund has been established to help fund the repair work.

As of Friday, September 29, the museum has reopened at half-price admission, but the gardens continue to be closed due to the extensive damage.


Before and during Hurricane Irma. Courtesy of the Cummer Museum and Gardens

The McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach, FL, closed for several days after Hurricane Irma. It reopened on Tuesday, September 19, even as debris from the hurricane continues to be cleared.

In Gotha, FL, Nehrling Gardens reports that Hurricane Irma devastated many historic trees and plants. Gardeners, volunteers, and arborists are working to repair the damage as much as possible. The gardens are closed to the public and donations the Nehrling Society's Fallen Giants Tree Fund are requested.

Initial report on the impact of Hurricane Harvey, September 8:
Hurricane season opened with a vengeance this year, as all of our members, friends, and public gardens in the Houston area know well. We checked to see how our contacts in the area—both people and gardens—fared in the recent torrential downpours from Hurricane Harvey.


After the rains stopped at Peckerwood Garden; photo by Adam Black, August 27, 2017

Initial reports from Peckerwood Garden, our preservation partner garden in Hempstead, Texas, are that the garden’s creek overflowed and flooded a quarter of the woodland but that flooding has now receded at the garden. They were even able to host a garden tour last Saturday, September 2.  Garden founder John Fairey and his house are fine.

In the heart of Houston, we hear that staff members at Bayou Bend Gardens, a historic garden and collection of American decorative arts, are all fine, but the gardens and the basement of the historic house were flooded and Bayou Bend is temporarily closed. The art collections were not affected. Just north of Houston, Mercer Botanic Gardens reports “overwhelming floods” and is closed indefinitely.

Our Open Days regional representative in Houston, Frank Brown, says he is fine and his garden was not flooded. We do not yet have word about our other local Open Days gardens in Houston.

Further afield in Texas, our upcoming Open Days gardens in Fort Worth and San Antonio were not severely affected and plans for fall Open Days are still moving ahead.

New Orleans also experienced tremendous rainfall and flooding, but fortunately our preservation garden Longue Vue is fine. Amy Graham, Longue Vue’s director of horticulture, reports that they are trying to make a plan to help public gardens in Houston.

We extend our sympathies and best wishes for a speedy recovery to all affected by Hurricane Harvey—and our very best wishes to all in the path of Hurricane Irma and any further storms this fall. We will keep you posted as we learn about further developments, and, as we gather more information, we are investigating how the Garden Conservancy might be able to assist in the recovery.