Paradise Lost… and Found – Montecito Restoration Continues

On January 9, 2018 massive debris flows came barreling down the slopes above Montecito, devastating the community of nearly 9,000 inhabitants. In a matter of moments, 23 people lost their lives and over 400 homes, 33 commercial structures and 92 outbuildings were destroyed or damaged.

This site was covered in three to five feet of mud and debris in a matter of minutes. Below are images of the landscaping from before, during and after the catastrophe.

Pre-disaster landscape. The approach to the house from the motor court. Note lawn and stone planter around oaks (these are removed in the post-restoration landscape).

Pre-disaster landscape. A footbridge, left foreground, crosses a stone-lined drainage channel that carries storm water runoff from neighboring parcels. The house, pool and gardens lie lower than the drainage channel.

Pre-disaster landscape. Pool, lawn and raised stone patio and wood deck.

January 2018. Thick mud, mangled vegetation, boulders and debris litter the site. Clean-up has begun, above, with the sorting of mud, stone and green waste.

Clean up. The raised stone patio is cleared by hand.  On this, the downstream side of the house, the mud line was relatively low. Luckily, no windows or doors were breached, leaving the interior of the home fairly mud-free.

Clean up. The raised stone patio and wood deck, the stepping stones that were in the lawn and the pool coping were only lightly damaged. The pool is filled to the brim with mud, water and debris.

 Clean up. Several months pass before the mud in the pool dries out enough to be removed.

 Clean up. The pool structure was found to be unharmed.

 Clean up is hampered by occasional rain events .

 Clean up.  Cleaned soil is stockpiled for later use throughout the site to create planting mounds wherever practicable.

Clean up.  More stockpiled soil.

 Clean up. The stone-lined drainage channel was choked with mud and debris.

May 2019 – Eight months after restoration was completed. The property is restored — with lots of changes to the pre-disaster landscape. A new stone wall and pedestrian gate separates vehicles from the front garden.

Post-restoration. The lawn and the restrictive stone planter around the oaks have been removed for tree health — and to create a more naturalistic garden with lower maintenance and lower water demand.

Post-restoration. The pool was re-plastered, re-tiled and salvaged coping was re-set. New sandblasted concrete paving planks were used for decking and a new fire pit area next to the pool.

Post-restoration. Landscape mounds and a new fountain add interest to the once-flat lawn area.

Post-restoration. Stone salvaged from the pre-disaster landscape was incorporated into a dining patio with leftover concrete pavers and scrap stone tile.

Post-restoration. Refurbished stone patio. A portion of the full-length steps was demolished to provide replacement coping stones for the pool and spa. New, naturalistic stone steps replace a portion of the steps that were removed.

Post-restoration. The remaining broad stone steps lead from the raised stone patio to new dry-laid flagstone decking. The flagstone joints are planted with Dymondia. All lawn has been removed.

Post-restoration. Flagstone stepping stones lead from the pool deck to the spa, which was determined to be structurally sound after the disaster. New tile, new plaster and salvaged coping stone on the spa match the refurbished pool.

Post-restoration. Large landscaped mounds dotted with boulders — using soil and stone from the debris flow — line the down-hill edge of the restored drainage swale, providing additional protection for the lower-lying portions of the property against future flood and/or mud events.

Post-restoration. The drainage channel was dug out and armored with stone once again.  The left bank, above, has been lined with mounded soil. The right bank and adjacent land (where no structures exist) are lower than the left bank, providing ample low-lying land to serve as “flood plane” should there be another storm event.

Post-restoration. Looking “upstream” along the restored drainage channel. Water thrifty grasses, aloes and ground covers are beginning to cover the bare soil along the channel.


Next time on The Art of Outdoor Living…

Continuing to Restore Montecito…

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