The dry riverbed is a handy, practical construct that can be used as a powerful design element in a landscape. It can serve as a simple decorative feature, but can also handle drainage problems, stop erosion, create a spacial division for a long, narrow or odd shaped piece of land, or cover up problems with topography.
If you are using a dry riverbed to funnel excess water or to correct or conceal land flaws, you will need to follow the dictates of the property. Water, for example, will always have to be conducted in a direction it will naturally flow to where it can be safely discharged. A dry riverbed that serves as a drain may be best built with drain pipe at the bottom to make sure the water continues to flow over time even if the area between the rocks starts to fill up with dust or silt.
To make your riverbed design successful, make sure the shape and materials blend well with the style of your garden and house. A contemporary or formal garden can comfortably include straight or geometric lines whereas a rustic or informal design will look better with natural curves that echo a stream created by nature.
A riverbed with polished round stone all of the same size will work well in a Japanese garden or a stylistic design. If you want your river to look natural, you will need to mix different sized stones and rocks. Think in terms of what your local streams and rivers look like. Ideally, should use local rocks or the same color and type of rock that already exists in or near your property.
To copy nature, think of how a river is formed. Rushing water washes big rocks and small rocks down as it forms a gully. In areas the water moves slower and small stones and gravel – maybe even small areas of sand – are formed. Odd rocks are tossed here and there while groups often end up clustered together. No river bed is mounded above the soil level. Attempts to build mounded rock riverbeds end up looking like a Fido’s grave. And no natural streams have larger rocks lining the edges with smaller rocks filling in between. These designs look more like pathways than river beds.
A successful dry riverbed will make a statement in your garden. It will stand out as a major feature of your landscape, so design it carefully. Plant around it (and maybe even place a plant or two in the riverbed itself) to complement the most interesting rocks and accentuate curves or corners. Ornamental grasses often look natural near water gardens so they can offer a colorful vertical element and soften some of the largest rocks or boulders.
Design your riverbed well and it can become a focal point or one of the most unifying features of your garden. It can also supply an opportunity to add a real pond or a decorative bridge to make your landscape into a piece of art.
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