Friday, August 3, 2012

Aquarium, be gone!

When I built the rain garden out front I only intended to use rocks right where the water was entering it, to prevent erosion. I had used every large rock I had scavenged in the backyard rain garden, so while I was at Home Depot buying the PVC pipe I picked up a bag of rocks. Those rocks were very small.

The backyard rain garden right after installation, with nice fat rocks

Once I got the small stones in the rain garden I kind of liked the idea of a dry creek bed. So I got more bags of small stones but then it looked less like a creek bed and more like the bottom of an aquarium. Laurrie helpfully advised making it wider (so the scale would be right when the plants get bigger) and to add larger rocks.

I ran down to Oregon Decorative Rock and grabbed a 50 pound bag of mixed medium stones and handpicked 25 larger stones. We had also scavenged some really large river rocks when we moved the dirt pile in back. I have over 60 gardening blogs in my RSS reader and I know someone posted in the last week about how to make these look natural, but of course I can't find it now.

It needs more rock down on this end but I'm not sure how to terminate the creek bed naturally.

In nature, as the water in a river (or under a glacier) slows down it drops the larger, heavier stones first. I tried to add more of the largest stones at the sides where they'd be in nature (the water is slower there), and to bury them a little in the center of the rain garden.  It still doesn't look quite right but it looks a lot better than before. And hey, look at me using those hydrology/geography classes from college! I also used algebra to calculate the water runoff to this thing. If building a rain garden has taught me anything, it's that Mom was right: you will use this stuff later in life.

I removed the dagger-leaf rushes that were responding so poorly to the summer heat and relocated a slough sedge. I need to buy more rock and then maybe have Greg's parents over to help with rock placement. They have a gorgeous garden and they have a good eye for this kind of thing.

I also decided to move one of the Zaschnerias that got covered by the Coreopsis. I thought I had read that they spread through rhizomes but it turns out they have a tap root and none of that foliage is anchored into the ground. I don't know that this guy will survive the move.

I'm still waiting for that Festuca glauca 'Golden Toupee' to get up to size. It grows so. very. slowly. If any of you more experienced gardeners want to get opinionated on the creek bed (or anything else), I am all ears. Just don't tell me I'll use that Women in World Religions class that I dropped my junior year.


  1. If you want to terminate it naturally, you need to half bury a giant corrugated drainage pipe

  2. Ha! It will look just like the Willamette.

  3. I think you did a really good job of making it look like how the rocks would flow in naturally. Maybe a little more on the top right where it sorta curls up?

  4. Thanks for the link and appreciation at the top of this post! I never did get a satisfactory terminus to my dry creek bed. It just ends under a shrub. Maybe spread the end of your bed a little wider (think mini river delta), and then just use your grasses clumped at the end. As everything grows it will soften and be part hidden.

    The half buried corrugated pipe is not a bad idea if you translate that into a half buried terra-cotta pot on its side.

  5. That's kind of a tough one…I always think working with rock is so tricky…it really is an art form…and I think you just have to generally play around with them until they "feel right". My 2¢ is to curve the right side up and around to "melt" with the gravel areas…maybe even remove some of the large, flat rocks and pull the river rock up into the gravel…and bring a few of the flat rocks down into the dry stream bed, merging the two areas. I'd even put a few larger rocks up in the gravel area…sort of like in the lower left of my illustration…creating little "crevices" for the plants…sort of like they were wind-blown seeds that sprouted and took hold. I'd also curve the other end around a bit…maybe using a larger rock as a punctuation. I'd soften that inner curve with evergreen grasses (in this case, Pheasant's Tail Grass). You've already got that nice evergreen Mahonia to soften the backside. Honestly though, once all your plants start to really fill in, it'll practically erase the edges anyway :-) Plus, once the plants gain height, the eye will be drawn up, instead of staying on the ground.

  6. I kind of liked the aquarium look. It would have been perfect if you added a castle and a guy in a deep sea diver suit.

  7. HammeringOurWayHomeAugust 3, 2012 at 8:01 PM

    I hate how I always say this, but, as usual, I don't have any advice to offer. But the stones look really good! I think it's pretty clever and a really 'natural' touch. Do you do anything with rain barrels? I'm newly interested in these..

  8. I think you're on the right track. I would probably try to fabricate a starting and ending point for your "creek." Maybe add some large boulders to the end, so it looks like your creek pools there or disappears beneath the larger boulders. I would probably also add a large boulder to the inside corner, so your smaller rocks look to "wrap around it" as water would. I think plants could also be used to soften the start/finish, giving the illusion that the "creek" starts from underneath the plant rather than it just looking like rocks placed amidst the bark. Does that make any sense? :)