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Naples Botanical Garden (5)

Naples Botanical Garden is preparing to reopen to the public on Nov. 1 after being closed for more than a month due to damage from Hurricane Ian.

Although the gardens sustained about a third of the damage compared to when Hurricane Irma hit Southwest Florida in 2017, there was still plenty of work to be done to get the gardens back to a presentable state.

“It’s been kind of like a year put into a month as far as debris pickup, tree removal, replanting,” said Brian Galligan, vice president of horticulture. “It’s been a whirlwind which we’re used to because we deal with Mother Nature and a very dynamic environment, but this has just been way more dynamic than normal.”

The team at the gardens knew exactly which areas and plants to prioritize right after the storm.

“We’ve weathered many storms before this so our team is pretty savvy as far as triage, what are the most important things to take care of immediately,” Galligan said. “Most of those are really covering rare species with burlap to prevent sun burning, because when things fall over, they defoliate. A lot of our rare understory plantings, but also bark of trees, sunburn pretty quickly.” 

Along with sunburn, many plants also endured salinity damage from the salt the storm’s winds brought. However, the garden was quick to bounce back to looking as lively as before.

“Believe it or not, almost every tree completely defoliated, except for the live oaks, completely defoliated as they are now all leafed out with a brand-new set of foliage, and so the garden really looks amazing from that respect, and it just looks lush,” Galligan said. “It really looks like spring all over which is kind of fun because it’s just such a refreshing look to it.”

The garden lost around 50 large trees due to breaking canopies, damaged root systems or vulnerability to any future storms. However, the staff sees this as an opportunity to bring positive change to the gardens with new landscapes and planting new communities of trees that work together to buffer winds and offer more resiliency for the surrounding plants.

“Because we are a botanical garden, we’re continuously planting many, many things and that pays off when you have a storm like this,” Galligan said.

Although damage from the storm isn’t ideal, Southwest Florida’s tropical climate allowed the plants to recover and grow back quickly.  Naples Botanical Garden

“You can remove a giant limb on a tropical tree and in the north, you would not be able to do that just because of disease entering it from the years that it would take to heal,” Galligan said. “That is not the case in the tropical trees, they grow back really fast. But in that respect, because they do grow so fast, they are a little bit more vulnerable to high winds, so they do break easier. So it’s a give and take for sure.”

Along with the reopening of the entire gardens Nov. 1, the Naples Botanical Garden will be launching their La Calavera Catrina event on the same day. Visitors will be able to walk through the Florida Garden and see the showcase of eight La Catrina sculptures designed by Los Angeles-based artist Ricardo Soltero.

Galligan anticipates the gardens to be a leisurely place for the community that has endured great amounts of stress since Hurricane Ian.

“We’re really looking forward to people coming here to step away from whatever they’re dealing with,” Galligan said. “The garden is a fantastic place to just let everything go and walk around and enjoy the beauty of nature. We’re really hoping people come to do that, and we’ll welcome them.”

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