By Denise DePaolo
When the snow began falling October 5, 2013, no one knew the damage it would cause to western South Dakota. Ranchers sustained devastating losses, and the pain was felt in town, too. Just hours after the flakes began to fly, Pat Handel could hear the trees in her large, shaded backyard begin to break down.
“The snow kept coming, the wind kept blowing, and things just kept breaking down,” Pat recounted, shaking her head. “I stayed in my bedroom. I didn’t want to see what was happening. And the electricity went out shortly after that. In this neighborhood, we were without electricity for four days.”
Nearly two years later, the yard is unrecognizable in the best possible way. With the help of local nursery, Jolly Lane, Pat and husband Art have created a brand new oasis, dotted with shade structures and charming little surprises. We spent a morning this summer touring this vision come to life, then sat down for a chat about how it all happened over coffee and Pat’s homemade chocolate espresso muffins.
Pat wasn’t always much of a gardener. In the previous home she and Art shared, there was only room for a few flower beds and a couple of potted plants. But that all changed 16 years ago, when the Handels moved a few blocks across central Rapid City. Their current residence is a 1952 ranch-style home sitting on nearly an acre of land, centered in a little box canyon. Almost immediately, improvements began.
“When we moved into this house, there was so much yard, but the yard wasn’t this big,” recalled Pat gesturing to the steep, wooded edges. “All of this was jungle, full of broken down tangled trees, so we started clearing it a little at a time. Then I wanted a pond. So we had a little pond to start with. Then my husband wanted more waterfall. So we had the pond rebuilt. My friend and I – my good friend that I garden with – our theory is it’s a much cheaper hobby than video lottery.”
The expansive, shaded yard was featured on Rapid City garden tours. It was captured in this book by one of the Handels’ friends.
After the storm, not only was there a gigantic mess to clean up, Pat realized a whole new plan had to be made for the yard. Her once shaded space would now be exposed to the sun. One of her first stops was to see Tim Sime at Jolly Lane Greenhouse.
“I needed to see something that was alive and growing,” she remembered. “But I also wanted to see what was available, because I needed to start reassessing this entire yard area. What wasn’t totally broken down was going to have to go anyways, because it was so damaged. I had old trees in this yard. This house was built in 1952. I think they had done some landscaping originally then. The trees were full-sized, mature trees. I had to start thinking, ‘Well, now what?'”
The nursery’s inventory sustained only minor damage in the storm, with backup generators keeping the lights on. Tim says his phone began ringing in earnest almost right away, with customers like Pat at a loss for what to do.
“My approach was, ‘Just relax for the moment. There’s only so much you can do. Obviously we’re all in cleanup mode for a while. You’ve got to take it step by step, piece by piece.’ It was just so discouraging seeing the damage to the trees. They were still leafed out, and hadn’t gone into dormancy yet. Even though the temperatures weren’t extremely cold. By the middle of that week, it was sunny and warm. And of course, then it was just a mess from the moisture. We had 30 inches of snow, or something like that. It was a lot. So from the business standpoint, we were telling people, ‘Just let things run their course, don’t get panicky. Don’t think you need to plant anything this fall,'” he said.
Pat took the winter to think about what her yard could be. And when spring came, the real work began. To replace some of the shade lost, a couple of large structures were built, and seating areas were created in the areas of the yard that still had a little protection from the sun. ‘
She worked with Tim to select plants that would do well in partial and full sun from Jolly Lane’s extensive inventory.
“I enjoy the fact that Jolly Lane has such a wonderful selection of trees, plants, flowering annuals, and you probably don’t know this, because you don’t go anywhere else,” said Pat to Tim, “but as far as those little packs of annuals, you’re cheaper than going to Lowe’s or Menards.”
Tim answered, “I think a lot of times, people perceive the garden center to be more expensive than the box store. I shop at Safeway for groceries, so I see, and this spring we were within pennies of each other. We have some things going for us that the box stores don’t. We try to take really good care of our inventory. We grow our own inventory. We produce all of our annuals and perennials.”
Pat agreed, “They’re always in good health when you buy them there. Nothing’s straggly.”
Although, she admits, there has been some trial and error in the “new” yard. Some plants haven’t made it. Others have had to move to more optimal areas.
But finally, Pat is happy to have a place she and Art can kick back and enjoy their surroundings. “This is probably the first time we’ve been able to sit and relax in the yard. For the last four or five years, we were getting ready for a garden tours, then the storm, then it was one thing after another. Now we’re actually going to sit in the yard and enjoy it.”
For Tim, this is the fun part, too. “It’s just fun to see someone who has taken the product and put it into such an amazing setting. Knowing how much work and effort it takes to grow the plants at the business, it doesn’t stop when it gets to the homeowners’ yard. It only continues and is, in fact, even more work. So it’s really an incredible thing to see the results of people who take it to this level. We have a lot of customers whose passion – and free time – is spent in their yard.”
For more info on Jolly Lane Greenhouse, call (605) 393-1700 or click here.