It may not seem like it to those just traveling though, but Paradise is not only rebuilding, it's replanting. Homeowners, as well as people who have not yet broken ground, are tending their properties and making beautiful what was destroyed by the Camp Fire. Landscaping and gardens are taking over. More people appear to be gardeners than not, and what is growing is as varied as the people who look after their gardens and landscapes.
What are people planting, and why those particular plants? How does the landscaping fit into their lifestyle? Or, in the case of some, how and why are they beautifying their little piece of the planet as they wait to be able to rebuild? As a recently returned resident myself, I decided to investigate by visiting some of my neighbors.
Placing the plants on rebuilt lot in Paradise, Debi Durham
Allison's property sits on the corner of Neal Road and is seasonally decorated throughout the year. Allison rents in Chico but is on her lot frequently, checking her drip system, pruning, weed eating, or hanging ornaments and lights from the shrubs that are thriving near the curve of her driveway. She told me she is planting corn along the back fence line, as well as beans, which will replace the sunflowers of last summer. She's hoping the sunflower volunteers will intermingle with the vegetables. When asked why she spends so much time and energy going beyond the typical maintenance required for an empty lot, she chuckles and confides it may sound “woo-woo” (with air quotes) but her property “was defenseless.” She says “I want it to know that it is still loved, someone cares about it, so we keep it clean and decorated…others will notice it is being cared for…it makes me feel good knowing I am doing my part keeping my little corner of the Ridge looking the best it can in the state it is in.” She wants her neighbors who've returned to know that the neighborhood is respected and cared about. Her way of showing this is by taking care of her property. She is grateful for the chance to give something to the area she calls home, even as she struggles with the challenges of planning for a rebuild.
Driving through town, it is apparent that many gardeners continued to buy plants and garden while living in rentals. Plants are an investment, and it can be difficult to justify buying flowers and shrubs to plant in a garden that is only temporary and not one's own. This may be especially true when there are so many essential items that need to be purchased. But the need to garden is also healing. As more people move into their new homes, container plantings brought from their interim housing are lining driveways and walkways, gracing front entries and steps. The plantings vary from small trees to fairy gardens, redwoods to roses, but these “gardens on the go” are evident everywhere.
Allison's sunflowers in Paradise, Debi Durham
After the Camp Fire, Jan and her husband purchased a number of acres several miles from their original property. Their house is built, and they are now planting their vegetable garden and filling their front garden with drought tolerant and native plants. “I love the lupines,” Jan says as she bends down to pull a weed between a cluster of lupines. She points to where she plans to plant lavenders, and explains the Manroot, or Wild Cucumber (Marah Macrocarpa), spreading across a tree stump. The Manroot is tuberous and its root can be the size and shape of a sleeping man, hence the name. The spiky fruit is bitter and toxic.
New raised beds in Paradise, Debi Durham
The garden on Jan's new property will be very different from the one she left behind on her former property in Paradise. This year she has an amazing crop of petunias on the old lot. Before the fire, she says “The trees always shaded the back garden. It was hard to get a lot of bloom.” Some people might wonder why Jan spends so much time watering and mowing a lawn on an empty piece of property, but like so many who are now replanting the ridge, she finds gardening healing. “It's also the right thing to do,” she says. “I'm part of this community, and I want to be part of its rebirth. These plants are that rebirth.”
The Lambs recount what it was like returning to their property for the first time in December 2018. “It was like walking into a black and white war movie. Emphasis on the black!” The work they had done over the past twenty years on their one-and-a-half acres was gone. Feeling deeply attached to their land, they began the work of restoring water lines, grooming the property, and attending to the remaining shrubs, olives, lemons, and apple trees. The landscaping was developed from birthday and anniversary gifts over the years, and they still feel the loss of those gifted plants. Yet, replacing the landscaping brings enjoyment along with the hope of a new garden. They shop local nurseries, DeJaVu and Nobles, as well as share cuttings and bulbs with friends. “The Gingko tree across the street from our temporary home was almost completely destroyed but we've taken starters so it can live on,” they say. A recent birthday graced this family, and seven rose bushes were planted in recognition of the seven decades lived, a living affirmation of hope and belief in the future.
Newly planted redwoods and bridge in Paradise, Debi Durham
Irises are blooming on vacant lots, and the Lambs make sure they get water. Paradise is slowly rebuilding the many houses lost to the fire, they tell me, and they see a renewal of landscaping as residents spend time designing a new Paradise. The sound of sprinklers in the early morning is a delight to their ears, and the scent of Jasmine blooming is sweeter knowing that the plant struggled to heal itself after being badly scorched.
Some Paradise residents incorporate garden items that made it through the fire into their landscapes. One neighbor found the garden angel that sat in front of her home intact. She has moved it into a beautiful rock garden she maintains while waiting for her home to be rebuilt. Gates, obviously burned but still beautiful, are being reused as entries to vegetable or front gardens. Statues and bird baths sit amid new plantings. Kent and Michelle are residents who didn't have a tree left standing on their property; they made lemonade out of lemons, or, more aptly, art from dead trees. They hired a woodworker to rework the Ponderosa Pine that had gallantly guarded their front walk, welcoming all to their home. In its place now stands a bear created from that pine, holding a sign that simply reads “home.”
Angel sculpture in Paradise garden, Debi Durham
For those of us who have come home, we are thrilled to be here. We landscape, we garden, we share plants and advice for their care because we are a community that is not only rebuilding, but replanting. A woman I spoke with wisely said, “We are rebuilding not only our houses but our community of generous and kind people who are populating a place we call home…Paradise.” Taking a drive to see these new landscapes and gardens just reaffirms the power of digging in the dirt.
The Master Gardeners 2021 Spring Workshop Series continues in June with “The Wild and Wonderful World of Honeybees” on Wednesday, June 16. Register for this free workshop, on our workshop webpage. If you missed any of our earlier workshops this season, they are available for viewing on our YouTube channel. Options include: Native Gardens; Invasive Plants; Plant Problems and Diagnoses; and Companion Planting. Also available for viewing are several workshops from last year: Tree Selection; Plant Viruses; and a three-parter on Gardening From the Ground Up.
Yard art in a Paradise vegetable garden, Debi Durham
UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org (preferred) or call (530) 538-7201.