Magazine article Sunset

Create a Realistic Dry Creek Bed

Magazine article Sunset

Create a Realistic Dry Creek Bed

Article excerpt

We're all more regimented than we think. That's why our attempts to simulate something - such as a dry creek bed - are so rarely convincing.

Artificial creek beds tend to be overdesigned and overarranged, says Owen Dell, a California landscape architect who specializes in dry creek beds. The tendency is to push all of the big boulders neatly to the edges, give each its own space, bury all to a uniform depth, and then wonder why our creation has all the poetry of an irrigation ditch. But even a small-scale dry creek bed running across a front yard can - if done well - convey the ferocity of the real thing.

The secret to making a realistic creek bed, says Dell, is learning how to think like a river. The one pictured above, which Dell designed for Lloyd and Jeanne Gibbs of Solvang, California, illustrates his point. Dell recommends visiting some natural creek beds, especially ones similar in scale to what you want, before simulating one. Notice what the force of water does to the rocks. In nature, pebbles get washed toward shore, and boulders too heavy for the current to move end up in the middle of the stream, not the reverse. Rocks get piled on top of each other in a mad jumble or lie half-buried in silt.

When you understand how the violent force of water shapes natural creek beds, says Dell, you are ready to mimic that "chaos" in your own garden.

As with any landscaping project, start with the major players. Site the largest rocks mentally. Turn them around in your mind before having them forklifted into place. Then do the same with midsize and small rocks. In general, try to put things down the way they were picked up, advises Dell.


Sweet peas twine on a cypress arch

As fanciful as it may appear, the arch of Italian cypresses framing the approach to Tim and Marguerite Lindsay's home in Sunland, California, was chosen for practical reasons. The arch frames a view of the nearby San Gabriel Mountains.

Tim chose a green living arch over one made of wood or iron because it would be softer-looking and cost considerably less. It took about one year for the pair of 5-gallon trees to grow tall enough to be tied together at the top with 12-gauge copper wire. Pruning maintains the arch's form and keeps it looking neat.

The arch also provides a platform for sweet pea vines. "I needed a sunny area to grow sweet peas, and I thought an arch could do double duty supporting them," says Tim. When the sweet peas have run their course, he plants cardinal climber (Ipomoea quamoclit), a summer annual vine. …

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