When Rochelle Wolberg visited Mounts Botanical Garden after Hurricane Irma tore through South Florida on Sunday, she steeled herself for the worst.
But the director and curator of the gardens on Military Trail was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the 14-acre tropical oasis just west of Palm Beach International Airport. While some trees were down and there is much work to be done before the public will be invited back for tours, Wolberg said she expected much worse.
“There was that emotional gulp,” she said Wednesday. “But it definitely wasn’t as bad as we expected.”
Wolberg had seen photos of the damage inflicted by hurricanes Frances, Jeanne and Wilma more than a decade ago. Each time, winds tore apart roughly 70 percent of the tree canopy.
Irma, in contrast, wiped out less than 5 percent of the tree cover, she said. “Because (Irma) wasn’t a direct hit, the damage wasn’t as extensive,” she said. “I was really grateful.”
Since Irma’s long-ago predecessors, horticulturalists have focused on planting trees and plants that are more resilient to high winds.
Wolberg said garden staff also had recently done a lot of pruning that had nothing to do with hurricane preparations.
“It was really serendipitous,” she said.
Staff will return to the gardens today to begin a complete assessment of damage. An Exotic Plant and Orchid Sale, scheduled for this weekend, has been rescheduled for Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Classes also have been suspended.
“We feel confident that we will be able to reopen to the public in two weeks,” Wolberg said.