Ken Druse’s Underwater Garden


Druse before-1

Ken’s garden before Hurricane Irene

Druse during-1

Ken’s garden during the Irene-caused flood

Gardening on an island in a river in Northwestern New Jersey, Ken Druse is used to floods, which he stopped counting after the 12th.  But Hurricane Irene was different.  As Ken recently told the Annapolis Horticulture Society, Irene left his garden under water for FIVE DAYS.  And deposited as much as TWO FEET OF SAND in some parts of his garden.  Sorry for the all-caps but seeing his photos and videos of all the destruction left me traumatized!

I asked Ken if he plans to restore his garden or was he considering moving on, and he answered, “I’m going to take it slowly. I have to make repairs to the infrastructure — wall, bridge, deer fence, etc.  Then I will continue to clean up.  I suppose that does mean I will be trying to get a garden going, but I think it is an opportunity to figure out a new strategy.”  While some might think of destruction like this as an “opportunity” to buy lots of new plants, Ken knows that there’s no way to replace plants you’ve nurtured for 15 years – without the huge budget required to buy full-grown plants.

Readers, what would YOU do if you gardened here?

Drusian Plant Wisdom – Highlights from his Talk

  • He’s “almost desperate” to get more people to grow plants and urged us to plant tree with kids, or just show them what’s under a rock, but do it before they turn three or it may be too late.
  • To help “Stop plant blindness”, learn plant names!
  • Boy, does he hate mulch volcanoes, dyed mulch, and the instant gardens on TV.
  • But guess what! In stark contrast to the Michael Dirr, he actually LIKES the Beauty Bush (a favorite of mine) and recommends it and other large, old-fashioned, flowering shrubs, like Weigela and Mock Orange.  He loves how effective they are at “shinking his property,” which I agree is the fastest and cheapest way to create a lush but low-maintenance garden.
  • Though he’s authored 16 books, it’s taken a whole lot of years to do that – an average of four years per book. So, he doesn’t just pop ’em out.
  • Ken’s a geek for plant propagation (and has Making More Plants to show for it) and shared a cool trick for giving Arisaema ringens seeds the six-times-a-day water changing they need – hanging them in a toilet tank.  (Oh, yes he did!)
  • He’s “really into oaks” because they provide more value to wildlife than any other plant.
  • His garden doesn’t have just floods, but bears, too!  (Visions of Stephen Colbert’s bear hysteria come to mind.)


  1. “urged us to plant tree with kids, or just show them what’s under a rock, but do it before they turn three or it may be too late.”

    Yes, yes, YES ! Although I wouldn’t discount the 3+ set. When students (ages 4-14) visit our school garden, many of them have their eyes opened about the fascinating life under a rock … or the underside of a leaf, or inside a compost pile. They’ve often lived their short lives in a nature bubble. Sometimes a trip to the garden changes their whole outlook.

  2. I have to second the thought about planting and experiencing nature with kids. I have a 3 and 4 year old, and they are fascinated by plants and things that grow. They even eat vegetables- enthusiastically!- after seeing them grow in the garden. It helps even more if I let them pick them themselves.

    On another note- if you are looking for a beautiful little tree to add you your yard (or shrink you yard- but on my little lot, that hasn’t been a problem)- I am giving away a 12′ whitespire birch. There are strings: you have to post a funny comment to my blog, and pick up the tree yourself. Other than that, it’s free.

  3. Sydney Eddison also recommends shrubs for those of us gardeners who are not getting any younger to help alleviate the work load. My heart does go out to Ken. His gardens are beautiful and he has given so much to all of his readers.

  4. Oof! How terrible–he has all my sympathy! Having to worry about a storm damaging your house is bad enough, but piling major garden destruction on top of it is just icing on a really bad cake.

  5. This makes me so sad. He had such a beautiful garden. I’m sure he will be able to grow it back up, looks like has a green thumb. Good luck to him!

  6. I would fix the infrastructure as soon as possible, same with the cleanup, and then I would sit back and wait. It is possible that more of his plants survived than he originally thought. And maybe, they will be even happier. Remember, one reason the Egyptians planted crops along the Nile was because the yearly floods fertilized the crops.

    Another reason I would sit back and wait is that it might take a full year to really notice what needs to be replaced or filled in or what actually looks better with the empty space. And, even if you know you want something there, it lets you know what you would like for each season.

  7. My kinda guy. I’m VERY close to pushing my wheelbarrow along the neighborhood sidewalks and shoveling out mulch volcanoes. And taking stakes off trees (my unstaked trees establish MUCH faster). Stupid people on this planet. Stupid lawnmower fumes coming in through my window. I wonder, would anyone buy a pissed-off gardener’s book? The title would be “Stop That Sh*t–Why Suburban Landscapes Suck & How You Can Save This Author From A Straight Jacket.” I’d seriously write this book. Call me.

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