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Case Study: Restoring a waterfront property after severe storm

Case Study: Restoring a waterfront property after severe storm

Did you know that this year’s hurricane season has been extended from June 1 through the end of November? While previous hurricanes largely aimed their destruction at Florida and the Gulf coast, Super Storm Sandy in the fall of 2012 wreaked havoc on the northeast. Climatologists and scientific models point to storms like Sandy and the more recent typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines becoming stronger as part of an ongoing trend. Many indicate that even though Sandy was quite destructive, it could have been worse. The reality is that Sandy – as devastating as it was; as much as “The Perfect Storm” as it was described – fell between 18” and 24” short of the 100-Year Flood levels designated by FEMA.

While we’ll never know with certainty when a major storm might hit, proactive property managers know the importance of planning for any eventuality. When your principal’s property suffers storm damage, consider not only how to restore its beauty and function, but also ways to minimize destruction from future storms. A case in point is this waterfront Westport, CT property. During Super Storm Sandy, much of the backyard, stone patio and seawall of this home were destroyed.


The landscape team at Hoffman Landscapes, Inc. of Wilton, CT soon began a complete structural and aesthetic restoration. After removing soil salinity and then adding new soil and compost, horticulturist and project director Rick King and his crew restored the landscape using salt-tolerant trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses. Today, the property is completely refreshed and the plantings have never looked better, thanks to the hardy plant choices, placed just right for this environment, and a program of attentive maintenance that assures the manicured look the client desires. Just cleaning or replacing salt drenched soil 3 to 6 inches down can make a huge difference to the survival of plantings in your landscape after a big storm or sea surge.

After years of storms, all new plantings were specifically picked for their durability, luxurious hues and textures, including perennials like Montauk Daisy, Astilbe, Hosta, Daylilies, Sedums, and Echinacea; grasses like Pennisetum, Miscanthus, Panicum, Calamagrostis, and sedges (turf grass: a mix of Kentucky blue grass and fescue); and shrubs such as Bayberry, Viburnums, Hydrangeas, shrub roses, Rosa rugosa, red twig dogwood, azalea, Rhododendron, Andromeda, and ‘Manhattan’ euonymous.

Creating windbreaks with salt tolerant shrubs and trees to protect plantings less tolerant of salt and wind is also a sound idea. This type of screening creates a natural backdrop for the overall landscape design. Trees to consider include Dwarf White Pine, Thunderhead Black Pine, and Weeping Japanese Maple, among others.

Lesson #1: Go native whenever possible! Looking ahead to the prospect of more storms means that, ideally, homeowners should consider salt tolerant plantings and native species, replacing lawns with hardscape, stone or fill and making other necessary adjustments in a changing environment. Rick King encourages his clients to consider native plantings that can withstand salt saturation and flooding. “Whenever we can, we suggest to homeowners that they try some type of sustainable restoration i.e. salt tolerant plants like beach grass, bayberry, hydrangeas and sedums. We can offer them compromises too like putting back the boxwoods – but just around the house or on a higher level of a new terraced grade.”

At many of the homes King has worked on, the soil is still saturated with seawater more than 3-6 inches down. This calls for extensive irrigation to a depth of six inches to wash the soil out then applying gypsum to desalinate it. Soil remediation is another solution, which is based on the large-scale removal of tons of soil and replacing it with uncontaminated topsoil trucked in.

“There is no reason to wait for FEMA to step in to evaluate your property,” says King. “An experienced landscaper should be able to evaluate the damage, then rescue and salvage whatever plantings and trees it can while offering the homeowner solutions to protect their property from future storm damage. There are also those properties where putting things back the way that they were works fine, since the original plantings were appropriate for the environment.”

Lesson #2: Plan well in advance of a storm. Protect your principal’s home and property by working with an experienced land care team to perform a risk evaluation analysis in advance of a storm. Working with your land care team can significantly reduce property damage, saving time and money in the long run.

Landscaping is the finishing touch to reconstruction projects after a storm like Sandy. Whether it’s through terraced retaining walls, layers of lawn or native plantings, landscaping works in conjunction with proper architectural design to help ease the eye, and the visitor, for homes that have been elevated to conform with FEMA regulations.

Finally, there are also design features that can help a house, particularly in waterfront properties, weather a devastating storm. These include:

  • Casement windows that seal tighter in the face of strong head winds
  • French doors that swing open outwards also seal more securely against the force of wind gusts
  • Flood vents, strategically placed in unfinished areas of a home such as a garage, control the natural ebb and flow of water without damaging the house’s foundation
  • Breakaway walls (part of a list of FEMA requirements for so-called ‘VE zones’ where you cannot impede water flow) help protects the overall structure against the strength of Mother Nature.


About Hoffman Landscapes, Inc.

Hoffman Landscapes, Inc. of Wilton, CT is a full-service landscape firm providing property maintenance, design/build capabilities and innovative landscape design. They have won numerous awards from such prestigious organizations as the National Association of Landscape Professionals, the Association of Landscape Contractors of America and the Professional Landscape Network. Telephone: 203 834 9656 Website: www.HoffmanLandscapes.com

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