Dry creek beds are often used in landscaping to redirect water and/or improve drainage. They carry water during heavy rains and help prevent moisture-related foundation problems.
Lawrence residents Jan and Kent McCullough use a dry creek to keep water away from their home’s foundation. The home is built into a slope, and water from the neighbor’s yard flows into theirs when heavy rains occur.
The McCulloughs’ creek is not just any creek, though. Primarily constructed of 2- to 4-inch stones, the bed is accented with larger upright boulders of all shapes and sizes. On closer inspection, each rock seems to have a unique personality, and I begin to wish a geologist were around to tell the rocks’ stories.
Jan picks up a small stone from a grouping of similar ones, saying “I have to tell you about these.” The stones are from a journey to Nova Scotia, where Jan was told she would have a long life if she could find a stone with a line that spanned its circumference. “I gathered as many as I could,” she laughs.
A large piece of limestone nearby has faces carved into it, representing Native Americans. Planters and artwork accent the individuality of the large stones.
The creek spans most of the back of the house, and runs under a bridge and fence before exiting the back yard. The McCulloughs worked with their next door neighbors to complete the creek and drain to appropriately carry water away.
“I didn’t plant the phlox,” McCullough admits. “They just came up. If something volunteers to grow here, I keep it.”
Neatly trimmed boxwoods and groundcover give the garden a tidy feeling. Unique planters add vertical interest and color in every corner. Every container has caladiums, springeri, vining vinca, and impatiens. McCullough says she uses the same plants each year because she knows they grow well.
Since the back yard is so small — roughly 18 feet by 54 feet or just under 1,000 square feet — little room is left for landscaping beyond the creek. Jan, who does most of the gardening, has made the most of her space, though.
The outer edge of the creek is one of the only sunny areas, and McCullough fills the area with hardy perennials including sedum, penstemon, daylilies, and chrysanthemums. Tall garden phlox stands upright amongst the shorter perennials and also grows in some of the shadier flower beds.
“We used a French drain under the dry creek, too,” Jan says. A French drain consists of pipe or drain tile buried in gravel and is also used to alleviate drainage.
Another functional and picturesque feature in the McCulloughs’ garden are winding brick pathways. Many bricks have unique patterns and carvings, including some with multi-colored flowers. There are sets of bricks that go together like a puzzle to create a windmill and sunflower.
“It’s fun to incorporate something that is interesting to other people,” McCullough says. “It didn’t always look like this. This was the playground for our two boys and a lot of neighborhood kids.”
I have a hard time picturing a swing set and sandbox in this pretty little getaway, but I guess the yard has always been functional for the McCulloughs.
The garden also goes to show just how much you can brighten a place even when you are trying to accomplish something else.