Garden Photo of the Day

Growing Back After a Tornado

Camelias and more bloom on after a storm

red flowers in front of a tress with lots of pink flowers

Today Amy is sharing how her garden has recovered after tornado damage a couple years ago.

Last year (Historical Camellia Garden in Virginia) I submitted photos of my historical camellia garden and shared that our property had experienced tornado damage in August 2020. The damaged areas spurred a new focus on landscaping, and my husband and I have been planting, pruning, and adding hardscape ever since. I’ve spent hours and hours looking at garden design books, researching plants online, and talking to friends and family. I even consulted with a brilliant landscape architect. For several of the larger damaged areas, we hired landscaping companies to do the installs, but we also bought hundreds of plants ourselves, learning that in Zone 8 you can plant 12 months out of the year. Because it’s camellia-blooming time here in Virginia, I’ve been taking lots of pictures. I realized they are an example of working with an established yard in some areas and having to create completely new spaces from scratch in others, showing a design angle readers may enjoy.

garden bed full of shrubsThe left side of this bed lost a huge Leyland cypress (Cupressus × leylandii, Zones 6–10) and a 125-foot-tall pine tree. On the positive side, it exposed some gorgeous camellias we hadn’t realized were there. We filled in the gap with three sweet osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans, Zones 7–9) and a line of ‘Winter Gem’ boxwoods (Buxus ‘Winter Gem’, Zones 6–8) planted in a nonlinear line to give a woodland effect. Mature, surviving plants in here include many camellias, and a Loropetalum (Zones 7–10) my husband cut into a tree. In the late fall I planted some lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis, Zones 3–8) to line the edge of the border. I can’t wait to see how it looks this summer.

garden in early spring with mostly evergreensThis border was as full and mature as my first picture. It got wiped out from a huge pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis, Zones 5–9), and the only thing that survived was a clump of upright plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’, Zones 6–9). As with the previous border, behind it was a wonder of tiny leafed azaleas that bloomed with hundreds of little bright pink flowers as well as camellias and dogwoods we hadn’t noticed or enjoyed before. The blank-slate front half was intimidating for me, and I stared at it for months, not sure how to fill or tackle it. My husband and I ended up at a garden center in December 2020 and saw a gorgeous ‘Ikandi’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Ikandi’, Zones 5–9) whose form was stunning even without leaves. We took a leap and bought the tree along with some large English boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens, Zones 5–8). We set them out in their pots in the bed and moved them around until we liked the arrangement, then planted them. It instantly gave me a structure to base the border on. I then kept planting, buying plants almost monthly, and filling in with mostly evergreens at first. This past fall and winter I’ve been planting a ton of flowers. I have no idea how they will look, but I’m excited for this upcoming spring and summer to see what works and what doesn’t.

garden bed on a slope with small shrubsThis area was tough even before the tornado, and the landscape architect gave me brilliant ideas and designed the bluestone stairs that we had installed. Our garden shed was old and unattractive, and because of the destroyed border above we had a clear view of it from the house. Since we didn’t want the added expense of replacing it, the landscape architect suggested painting the shed and designed the bluestone stairs and gravel path around it. My husband put a solid stain on the shed and four planters we already had. After a lucky find of the antiqued metal trellises from a small boutique garden store, and two inexpensive whiskey cask planters from a big-box retailer, a pitiful area became a design feature.

slope in the garden full of shrubs and treesWe were fortunate that the back hill was mostly unharmed. You can see the huge saucer magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana, Zones 5–9) blooming on the left. My husband and I used the leftover bluestone from the landscapers to put in a bluestone path up the hill.

large light pink flowerThe remaining pictures are some of the stunning camellias (Camellia species and hybrids, Zones 7–10) in bloom. This is the variety ‘Allie Blue’.

bright pink and white flowerCamellia ‘Les Marbury Blush’

bright pink flowersA beautiful pink camellia, unknown variety

shrub with lots of dark pink flowersAn intensely dark pink camellia

flowers that are a mix of red and whiteA red-and-white camellia flower

red flowers in front of a tress with lots of pink flowersRed camellia in bloom with the pink saucer magnolia behind it.


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View Comments


  1. blondie3 03/15/2022

    You would never know there was a tornado, I remember your camellia garden, they are stunning…I would love being able to plant 12 months out of the year! Love the stone steps…there is something about paths and steps that I love in a garden… thank you for sharing

  2. PattyLouise 03/15/2022

    Wonderful recovery! Congratulations to you for having the strength to push on! Lovely gardens!

  3. User avater
    treasuresmom 03/15/2022

    Gorgeous camellias. But the new things you have done are lovely as well.

  4. User avater
    bdowen 03/15/2022

    Thinking about your comment about how the devastation from the tornado uncovered some treasures you hadn't really seen before. What a helpful thought as you began your beautiful restoration and new gardens.

  5. angelaobrienruff 03/15/2022

    Osmanthus fragrans is one of my favorite shrubs from the south and I have planted them successfully in my garden in Seattle. It blooms here in the fall and fills our back garden with its wonderful fragrance.

  6. User avater
    simplesue 03/15/2022

    Your garden AND you are amazing!
    I'm so impressed with this huge beautiful garden!!!
    And such an interesting story of recovery after the storm.
    I'm sharing this link with my neighbor so she can see your Camellias!

  7. [email protected] 03/15/2022

    So happy to see this wonderful recovery and rejuvenation project. Now I'm going to look at your previous post. And I look forward to seeing more of how your changes progress. Thanks

  8. user-5117752 03/20/2022

    Bravo! Survival of the fittest at work! Love to see what spring and summer bring you. Best of wishes!

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