Design a Dry Riverbed Into Your Garden

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Many gardens have drainage issues that cause areas to puddle or flood in the event of a heavy rain. Even in dry climates, drainage can be a problem since water from a downpour might not have sufficient time to soak into dry soil. A riverbed is a decorative and versatile way to cope with drainage. A dry riverbed doesn’t even need to function as a drainage solution. I’ve used dry riverbeds in a number of ways when designing different landscapes.

Dry riverbeds — whether they conduct water or not — provide a creative way to divide one section of the garden from another. Here are a few ways you can incorporate this feature into your landscape:

-You can use one as a natural-looking border disguised as a meandering dry stream. The ribbon of stones and rocks can serve as a decorative edge to a planter area or divide a paved space from a lawn or other garden area.

-A dry river gives you an excellent excuse to build a bridge as a focal point.

-Use rocks as a natural way to fill a gully, which makes it both decorative and practical, as there will be less erosion to the gully once it has a stone lining.

-Build a curving river to function as a segue to a pond or other water feature. This will enhance the water theme and help naturalize your water feature into the overall look of your landscape.

-Use a dry riverbed to divide one part of your landscape from another.

No matter how much water you intend to have your dry riverbed conduct — if any at all — here are some basics that can make your construction more successful.

-Underline your river with a heavy weed block. Cement is less ideal, unless you don’t want any water to sink into the ground. Lining will discourage weeds and make maintenance easier. It will also keep stones from sinking into the soil.

-Choose stones that match other stonework in your garden so there will be some continuity.

-Use at least three to four different sized stones if you want it to look natural. Real riverbeds have scattered stones of all shapes and sizes and even have areas of gravel and sand.

-Use same-sized and same-colored stone (like round, black stones) for contemporary, Asian or stylized gardens only.

-Design a river with varied widths that curve as one would in nature. Hard angles and straight lines should be reserved for controlled, artificial or formal landscapes where there is no likelihood of heavy water flow.

I love designing dry riverbeds into landscapes. They can help use water efficiently and they also offer wonderful opportunities for creative design.

Photo credits: Jane Gates

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