Creating Resilient Landscapes


By Donna Clapp
From the August 2023 Situation



When Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida in September of final yr, it uncovered all of the vulnerabilities of the realm’s electrical grid, water administration programs, and definitely the best way landscaping parts may help or harm a property by way of flooding and wind safety. The devastation of locations like Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Seashore merely can’t be considered in the present day with out noting the absence of bushes, bushes, and vegetation. The remaining mansions on Sanibel are laid naked, after years of being fully hidden by lavishly inexperienced panorama privateness parts. As the realm rebuilds, crucial subject now being mentioned is creating resilient landscapes.

Resilient Landscapes
Babcock Ranch at sundown. The group sits simply 30′ above sea degree. (Credit score: Babcock Ranch)

Babcock Ranch

“It simply doesn’t make sense to rebuild the identical approach each time, understanding that the subsequent time a storm comes by, we find yourself in the identical place,” says Sydney Kitson, the developer of Babcock Ranch, an 18,000-acre group in southwest Florida that made nationwide headlines when it actually powered by Ian with out ever dropping electrical energy, consuming water, and even Web. The rationale? As an environmentally pleasant, totally sustainable small city, Babcock Ranch was designed and engineered particularly for hurricane resilience from the onset. Amongst different improvements, it runs off 700,000 photo voltaic panels mixed with underground utilities. “Once you struggle Mom Nature and also you don’t do it proper, Mom Nature’s going to win each time,” asserts Kitson.


“Once you struggle Mom Nature and also you don’t do it proper, Mom Nature’s going to win each time.”

— Sydney Kitson,
Babcock Ranch

Babcock’s philosophy additionally applies to its landscaping. Babcock Ranch sits 30′ above sea degree, and Kitson credit their well-designed stormwater system, Babcock’s personal water utility, and the native vegetation Babcock landscapers should set up with stopping the flooding that ruined a lot of the encompassing communities’ landscapes. By way of stormwater administration, Babcock Ranch invested in creating wetlands, retention ponds, and rain gardens that mimic pure ecosystems. For instance, all of the retention ponds at Babcock Ranch have been constructed so in the event that they overflow, water is directed between homes, flooding roads as a substitute of properties.

“Ian was the barometer of our idealistic imaginative and prescient, proving that designing resilience and sustainability into the inspiration of a group works,” says Kitson. “Babcock Ranch is now championed as a city of the longer term by proponents of local weather resilience.” In truth, it gained this yr’s prestigious worldwide Edison Award for Resilience in Design.

Obstacles Bore The Brunt

Whereas Babcock Ranch was designed to face up to excessive storm occasions, barrier islands corresponding to Sanibel and Fort Myers Seashore labored as Nature supposed, absorbing the brunt of Hurricane Ian to guard the mainland. With gusts of 150 miles per hour, sustained winds of six to eight hours, and 18′ storm surge, Ian took its toll on landscaping throughout Southwest Florida, however the bushes, shrubs, and sea grasses of Sanibel and Fort Myers Seashore have been completely devastated.

“We’re nonetheless studying what’s going to outlive and what’s not going to outlive,” says Bob Walsh, proprietor of R.S. Walsh Landscaping Inc., an award-winning full service panorama design-build firm on Sanibel Island. “Day-after-day it’s a model new factor. Quite a lot of issues we thought would survive are immediately dying again. For instance, after the primary three months, all of the royal palms began placing on new tops. All of the coconut palms began placing on new tops. All of the leaves began coming again on quite a lot of the shade bushes. After which, a month later, all of them began wilting out and dying.”

He continues, “We have been drenching the buds of the palms and doing all the pieces we may. However we simply stayed proper within the eye of that storm for thus lengthy. So now, after we’ve already relandscaped so most of the properties, we’re having extra of these massive bushes die, and we’ve found that the sustained wind broke the guts of the tree approach down deep inside it.”

On Sanibel, the storm surge destroyed nearly each plant—each exotics and natives. It was not selective. In lots of instances, it was the lengthy publicity to salt water that killed many vegetation. Sea oats have been probably the most hardy. Although they have been rolled up like big carpets on the seaside, they slowed the surge down a bit, many consider. Massive areas of matted roots, crucially essential to seaside conservation as a result of they stabilize sand, lay uncovered after Ian.

Resilient Landscapes
Native grasses are extra resilient in storms. (Credit score: Babcock Ranch)

Resilient Landscapes: Classes Discovered

Whereas it’s unimaginable to design a panorama to face up to a Class 4 hurricane, Ian did (sadly) present a worthwhile “worst case state of affairs” during which to look at the success or failure of sure vegetation and practices. As climate extremes turn out to be extra frequent, landscapers will more and more depend on these classes to assist design higher resilience into landscapes.

Rethinking rain gardens. One lesson pertains to the design of stormwater retention areas, says Walsh. As an island surrounded by Gulf waters, Sanibel properties will need to have berms that run round a website with retention areas to seize stormwater in addition to fertilizer or pesticide runoff. The thought is to filter the water earlier than it drains to neighboring websites, the Gulf, or into aquifers beneath the island.

Property house owners don’t at all times like the looks of those retention ponds, so for years R.S. Walsh has been reworking them into engaging rain gardens planted with cabbage palms, inexperienced buttonwoods, blue flag iris, and yellow canna lilies. However these rain gardens have been usually designed for 3 or 4 inches of water, which drains away pretty shortly. Throughout Ian, the 18′ storm surge overwhelmed these rain gardens, leaving vegetation soaking for weeks in Gulf salt water and universally killing all of them.

“We are going to nonetheless plant rain gardens within the retention ponds on individuals’s property, however we’re designing them a bit in a different way this time round,” says Walsh. “There are many vegetation that prefer to have moist ft. However what we’re doing is planting the bigger bushes across the exterior of the pond, not in the midst of it like we used to. Within the center, we’ll nonetheless plant loads of canna lilies, and ferns, like leather-based ferns, and issues that in the event that they perish you’ll be able to restore pretty shortly.”

Avoiding plant monoculture. Sanibel residents actually like their privateness—significantly areas created naturally with inexperienced buffers. Through the years, sure vegetation turned well-liked for this perform, with many privateness buffers created utilizing a single species of plant. The issue was if that species couldn’t deal with the storm, the whole buffer died, identified Walsh.

“Areca palms are a quite common and cheap buffer that’s been used for years, however they actually didn’t do effectively on this storm,” he says. “Should you had a protracted straight hedge of 100 Areca palms, and each considered one of them died, then it’s a must to change the whole buffer.”

“We’re creating our new designs using vegetation and bushes that survived the very best. We proceed to incorporate an incredible quantity of variety in our plant palette.”

— Bob Walsh,
R.S. Walsh Landscaping

Now, R.S. Walsh is arising with new buffer options based mostly on Ian’s aftermath. “Our new buffer designs have a big variety of several types of native vegetation. By bringing extra variety into our panorama design, then in case you have a storm and one kind of plant doesn’t do effectively, the others will survive. You then solely have to interchange one or two forms of vegetation within the buffer or panorama. We’re creating our new designs using vegetation and bushes that survived the very best. We proceed to incorporate an incredible quantity of variety in our plant palette.”

Permitting bushes to topple. Grant O’Donnell is the operations supervisor for O’Donnell Landscapes, which gives panorama set up companies for the city of Babcock Ranch. One of many methods his firm minimized injury to newer panorama installations earlier than the storm was by eradicating all tree and palm bracing and staking earlier than the storm hit. By doing so, bushes and palms could possibly be toppled over by the excessive winds as a substitute of being snapped in half above the bracing.

“This method enabled our restoration groups to simply re-erect the palms and bushes after the storm handed,” says O’Donnell, “which was an economical answer for our purchasers in comparison with the entire substitute of quite a few destroyed bushes and palms. Structural injury to the cover was minimized, and it was merely a matter of uprighting bushes and repositioning the soil across the root ball.”

Utilizing native vegetation. Each R.S. Walsh and Babcock Ranch use native vegetation as a strategy to preserve water, cut back fertilizer and pesticide use, and promote wholesome landscapes. But not surprisingly, landscapes that includes native vegetation additionally are usually extra resilient. It simply is smart, since native vegetation are the unique flora tailored to the native atmosphere over a few years. As talked about, Kitson credit native vegetation as an element locally faring effectively throughout Ian.

At Babcock they discovered most native palms, like sabal or cabbage, withstood the storm effectively. And native vegetation, except uprooted or submerged in saltwater, exhibited stunning resilience. Native grasses corresponding to muhly, spartina, and fakahatchee proved exceptionally resilient to storms.

But “the resiliency of native plant materials is simply one of many causes that Babcock Ranch has such stringent native plant necessities,” says O’Donnell. “We work with Nature to create lovely, sustainable landscapes which can be married seamlessly to adjoining undeveloped tracts of protect and wetlands. It’s nearly as if the completed product of each avenue and each group have been in some way carved out of what Nature offered initially, with minimal disturbance to the pure ecosystem.”

Resilient Landscapes
Sometimes lush plantings on Sanibel create privateness. (Credit score: R.S. Walsh)

Future Planning

General, each firms agree you’ll be able to’t base all future landscaping on a “storm of the century.” However you’ll be able to take note of what confirmed resiliency and what didn’t. “In case your total design palette relies on solely what survived the storm surge and 150 mph sustained winds, you’ll be doing solely sea oat gardens,” says Walsh. “However we’re working with the very best info we’ve got to implement resiliency in our panorama with correct planting of resilient vegetation and bushes.”

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This data is available in significantly useful since RS Walsh can also be contracted to keep up a number of the vegetation used for seaside conservation. “We’re getting ready for the seaside restoration and vegetation to assist maintain on to the sand throughout a storm and break up the storm surge,” says Walsh. “We’re [also] creating a plan for a extra resilient, sustainable showcase of bushes, shrubs, and supplies to offer nice selections for our purchasers to make their backyard one that can final and provides them years of enjoyment.”

O’Donnell feedback, “As plant fanatics, we consider each plant has its rightful place within the cultivated panorama. Subsequently, labeling any plant as ‘not resilient’ or excluding it from our panorama installations is difficult.”

As a substitute, he says, “We prioritize utilizing high quality plant supplies, correct set up strategies, and well timed restoration to attenuate the challenges related to storm restoration. Our method incorporates native supplies and sensible design practices to create resilient landscapes. This entails deciding on resilient vegetation, guaranteeing correct set up, and promptly restoring storm injury. Our dedication to storm resilience is ingrained in our panorama planning and design processes, aiming to keep up Babcock Ranch’s distinctive character whereas adapting to future climate challenges.”

Donna Clapp

Clapp has greater than 35 years expertise in media and publishing and is a former Editor-In-Chief at Turf ’s sister publication, Enterprise Amenities. With a Grasp of Media Arts from the New College, she is president of Visitivity Media in Ft. Myers, FL, specializing in video and digital advertising.

Do you’ve got a remark? Share your ideas within the Feedback part beneath, or ship an e-mail to the Editor at [email protected].

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