As a kid, spending every summer on Topsail Island, North Carolina (my father was a reserve Marine who worked at Camp Lejeune as his summer job), I never considered that the barrier islands weren’t really designed to be permanent places to live. We did notice the hurricanes—at least one major storm every few years—but when you’re ten years old and have a whole summer ahead of you, the beach seems to stretch on forever.
It doesn’t seem that way now. We were just on Topsail for a week, and the beach looked distressingly narrow, though just as beautiful (and refreshingly free of crowds) as ever. While we were at our rented cottage, for the first time in memory, a landscaping crew showed up. Their mission: to plant beach grass along the dunes that slope down to the beach from our cottage. I had already noticed some rather nice plantings immediately in front of the house. (Top and below; our yearly trip to Topsail is pretty much my main experience with Southern gardening.)
All up and down the beach, you see fences with “do not walk” signs attempting to protect the dunes and their grasses; some homeowners are more vigilant than others. I’d say the owners of our cottage are among the most conscientious dune protectors; some owners let their fences fall apart and don’t seem to do much in the planting line.
Is this a lost cause? Is Topsail just a hurricane or two away from being wiped off the face of the earth? I know that grass planting is just a minor methodology of beach replenishment; I imagine sand is added regularly, though no sea walls have been built, as they are in New Jersey and other places. It’s debatable if they help.
It was interesting to watch the planting. A long steel watering rod was inserted first and then the strands of grasses were placed, laboriously, one at a time. This is not a garden I’d want the job of maintaining!