Mud, Sweat, and Tears – Rising from the Mud


We don’t often think of a natural disaster as being a thing of random chance. But a visit to Montecito after the debris flow of January 9, 2018 proves it to be just that. Broad swaths of entire neighborhoods were destroyed in one fell swoop, leaving post-apocalyptic scenes as far as the eye could see. Yet,  improbably, in the middle of all the destruction, there still stands a house or two – unscathed. What twist of fate or accretion of  circumstances – large and small – spared that one single piece of earth in the middle of all that chaos? It boggles the mind.

While the property featured here was by no means untouched, the house itself was one of very, very few in the neighborhood that survived – and the only one not filled with mud and debris. It was built two feet above what’s known as the base flood elevation and, incredibly, although the grounds were inundated with mud, boulders and debris, not one drop of mud entered the house.

The cleanup and restoration of the landscape is being done in stages. We’ve re-landscaped the area behind the house (we’ll call it the backyard). It’s furthest from the creek and most heavily used by this three-child family. As portion of the front garden was “mudded” again last winter, the land between the creek and the front of the house will be restored after a few more seasons have passed to allow the vegetation in the burn area to recover and the danger of flood and mud events to subside.

Check out images of the landscape restoration (so far) below…

January 2018. After the debris flow.

January 2018.

Cleanup in progress.

Cleanup in progress. Truckload after truckload of sorted and cleaned soil was hauled off site.

Cleanup in progress.  The high-water (high-mud?) mark on the play structure is a little over two feet above the pre-disaster finished grade.

Cleanup in progress. The property is accessed by this bridge over the creek, which was filled to the brim with mud, boulders and debris on January 9, 2018. The bridge and the creek were the first areas cleared in the cleanup.

The cleanup continues…

Cleanup nearly complete. The house, built two feet above “base flood elevation”, had no mud intrusion whatsoever.

Items salvaged during site cleanup.

Statues salvaged during cleanup.


After the Disaster – Partial Restoration is Complete!

After. The backyard is finished! The scope of work includes new terracing to raise a portion of the yard above potential future flooding, a new fountain, a new fire pit, refurbishing the pool, new decking, a new play lawn and new plantings.

After. An outdoor bathtub allows kids to be kids. Sand tracked home from the nearby beach and muddy messes are dispatched with outside. When the bathwater has cooled, it’s released into the garden via hidden piping to deep water the trees.

After. Backyard restoration is complete.

Backyard – after. New terracing in the backyard provides a gentle “bridge” between the elevation of the house and the elevation of the pool. Raising a good portion of the yard in this way provides additional protection against potential future flooding. The new olive tree, above left, is planted on the uppermost terrace. Two additional terraces, lower right corner above, stairstep down to the pool-play lawn-fire pit area.

After. A portion of the front garden was “mudded” again last winter. We’ve laid out some gravel paths, set a few decorative objects and tossed out some wildflower seeds to make the area clean, functional and beautiful for a few more seasons while the vegetation in the burn area recovers and the danger of flood and mud events has passed.

After. Although the restoration is on hiatus, signs of renewal are everywhere.




Next time on The Art of Outdoor Living

Before I leave you — I’m very excited to announce the release of our first book, Private Gardens of Santa Barbara – The Art of Outdoor Living, launching in Spring 2020 with publisher Gibbs Smith. This book has been a labor of love for me — it was such a joy to pore over the many gardens we have created over the past three decades, for so many clients near and dear to our hearts. For this book we could only feature 18 gardens — good new is, that means more books to come! We will continue to update you and share sneak peeks as February approaches — in the meantime, enjoy a sneak peak of the cover below!

Pre-order here


Don’t forget your friends and family, Private Gardens of Santa Barbara makes a great gift too!



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