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My Year of the Dragon : The Perfect Storm


by Linda Pastorino

Resilience: The ability of a substance or object to spring back in shape. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Toughness.

If I had to choose a word to best describe my dog-with-a-bone determination and recovery capabilities, my scarlet letter would be a big “R.”

At my garden’s peak in 2011, all 40,000 square feet of perennial beds looked their part of the 11 years of work that had gone into its creation.

A potager was added in 2010 incorporating countless varieties of heirloom vegetables and lettuces. I also experimented with allowing some greens to bolt to be used in flower arrangements. I decided I would add areas of flowers specifically for a cutting garden as well, so plans were made and seeds selected of my favorite annuals.

It was the first time my taste buds touched on vintage memories of home grown vegetables, which peaked my interest in the creation of chutneys, sauces and jams. To that end, and to safe guard future plantings, I purchased a vintage Treillage style fence that would be used to keep out any unwanted guests, but the cost of installation coming at time with larger issues prevented it from being finalized and to date I have used the fencing prominently for short term interior displays.

It was not until September 2011 that the garden was officially viewed by a paying public for a garden club fundraiser. With the creation of the garden my long term and financial supporting intentions were to use the property as an open lab or visual portfolio for visiting clients both for interior and garden work, as well as a place for fundraising, such as garden clubs functions.

These types of events were delayed due to issues with several building projects from 2007 to 2011: a barn-to-gallery renovation and large addition for my parents to grow older in, a kitchen/pantry and master suite. Several unscrupulous builders and inspectors were all it took to create havoc and cause devaluation, an ongoing nightmare that continues to this day. The wing was not operational for four years, with half of it never completed, and parts of it now suffering from damages caused by mistakes that were built into the structures.

Although worn down by the building mishaps, my resilience allowed me to continue dreaming of the developed garden plan.

The house and areas around the new addition needed hardscape and the mishandled grading created choice new ideas such as a bog garden created by rain runoff. I planted a black pussy willow to start that area going and had selected bog plants but I held off on that as underground piping and venting needed to be developed. The upper drive, yet to be properly cut and graded after two failed attempts, needed to meet the lower drive through a septic field, thus causing me to think of meadows. My old plan called for neighbor-blocking, deep-rooted trees but soon changed in favor of understory shrubs and smaller conifers.

In October 2011, a flash snow storm of over five feet left our town devastated from tree collapse (Halloween was cancelled for the first time in my life) setting the stage for what was to come.

As October 27, 2012 approached, I heeded warnings and purchased survival supplies. Our neighbors invited my daughter, father and I to a pasta dinner at which time Mother Nature’s breadth laid havoc to the Eastern seaboard. Our little enclave of Chester was not spared and in fact was one of the hardest hit towns in Morris County. I felt safe as it seemed my property was spared. Once inside my dad’s bedroom, however, the sound of leaves crackling under my shoes left me feeling like intruders had been inside. With no lights, no visuals, I still felt comfortable as my part of the house had working electric on another line.

As the light of morning crept into the second floor window that previously had given me an eyefull of beauty, I caught glimpses of a paradise gone and in its place saw Armageddon. A cyclone style force had obvioulsy hit the property as the neighbors’ 170-200 year old hickory trees were down in a spiral on the property with 150-foot branch spans. Our long growing cherry and a 200-foot pine also came down.

The fences were blown out front to back and side-to-side and the inner fencing was shattered as if a bomb had dropped. On closer inspection, the damage took out half my fencing and stone walls. It shot through the roof of the addition and broke through the French doors of the bedroom, crushing the steps. Two lanterns on the side of the conservatory were flattened from the gale force winds. The rose garden was impassible, the topiaried willows sheared off, trees uprooted, and perennials, boxwood and developed beds crushed.

Our town was in darkness for three weeks, banks closed, and food provisions non existent. My wing in the house had light and a computer so that was a big help to allow for quick action with the mortgage company for house repairs.

After the tree limbs settled, and the adjuster had totaled a repair cost of over $40,000 in hardscape repairs, plus $15,000 in tree removal and $9,500 in house repairs, the discovery of a misappropriated insurance policy (ommitting all Part B coverage from the mortgage clause), not to mention the countless damage to the garden material, left little room for my usual bounce back, resiliant recovery plan. Prior to 2011, part B was in place which would have covered all damages caused by neighbors’ falling trees. The chronicle continues with cleanup, the owner’s depression, neglect and renewal.

**All photos by Linda Pastorino

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published September 30, 2016

Photos to enlarge

Crushed fence blocking the entrance

Neighbor's fallen tree stump

Center fence

Damaged fence

Damaged wall



Fence damage

Neighbor's tree through rose bed and fence

Neighbor's tree through several sections of fence

Rose garden fence damage

Rose garden fence damage

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