Dry Stream Beds in the Garden

– Posted in: Succulents


The desire to get rid of water-thirsty, high-maintenance lawns has led to the rise (no pun intended) of dry creek beds. After all, you have to replace all that garden space with something. Rocks and boulders are fairly inexpensive and create a natural setting. A dry stream bed can add a sense of motion (rushing water) to the garden. Here are a few dry stream beds I admire, and why.

The one above looks like something you’d see in the backcountry. Boulders are semi-buried, and amid them grow annual wildflowers. You get a sense that water once flowed through here but no longer does. It’s believable.


This one is the ultimate. It combines several kinds of rock, and boulders are randomly placed, mainly along the edges, but also midstream. It isn’t arrow-straight. Terrain is mounded on either side as though from erosion. Best of all, this creekbed also is a pathway, connecting front and back gardens. The designer is Tom Jesch of Waterwise Botanicals nursery in Escondido, CA.


Here’s another view of the same garden. I like how the boulders flow in gentle curves. Using river rock lends credibility; the stones have been rounded over time by flowing water.


At the San Diego Botanic Garden, ornamental grasses suggest reeds that populate creek beds, even in the dry season.


This is by Akana Design of San Diego, and was their exhibit one year at the County Fair. I love the trompe l’oeil suggestion of lily pads flowing downstream, created by aeoniums. Doubtless they were still in their nursery pots, concealed by  gravel.


Also exhibiting sophisticated whimsy are these yuccas that were planted sideways and then turned upward. The dry creek bed sets the stage and gives them a reason to be there.


This was dug below grade, simulating the way water carves rocky terrain. I like the way plants grow in and along the bed, too. The designer is Bill Schnetz of Schnetz Landscape in Escondido.


This creek bed actually functions as one during winter rainstorms. It’s at Oasis Water Efficient Gardens nursery in Escondido.


For a pocket garden  designed for Judy Tillson in Rancho Bernardo, CA, designer Laura Eubanks of Design for Serenity (San Diego) used contrasting colors of crushed rock to evoke the way water flows through terrain.


Steve McDermon of Waterwise Botanicals nursery created a more subtle dry creek bed for Jeanne Meadow’s garden in Fallbrook, CA.  Aloe brevifolia clusters appear to be aquatic plants.


San Diego garden designer Michael Buckner positions rounded river rock on its side to suggest rapidly flowing water.

01-20 Dry streambed

This is a dry stream bed that I show in my book, Designing with Succulents. It creates a demarkation between lawn and an ornamental border of agaves and other dry-climate plants. So, do you have the perfect place in your garden for a dry stream bed, large or small?


My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified.  www.debraleebaldwin.com 




Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
11 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Karen April 21, 2014, 6:27 am

Beautiful examples of dry creek beds! So inspiring.

Laurin Lindsey April 21, 2014, 8:21 am

Great article and wonderful examples! I love dry stream beds and just did one for a client as a pathway and to draw your eye through the space.

Gail Klein April 21, 2014, 12:18 pm

Thanks for some new ideas, most of which can be used widely.!!

Anne Schellman April 21, 2014, 9:49 pm

Hi Debra, we met at the San Francisco Flower and Garden show in March at Andrea’s house. Your work is absolutely beautiful! I’m going to share this post as an “Earth Day” idea for landscapes.

Candy Suter April 25, 2014, 9:48 pm

Yes you know I do!!!! These are great designs and ideas. And I would incorporate one in my design. Wish!

www.hydrangeaflower.net/ April 28, 2014, 5:26 am

Amazing samples of dry stream beds. I especially like the 2nd one and the last one. Great ideas! Happy spring!

Kathy Juracek May 12, 2014, 9:57 am

Love this post! Great ideas for my dry creek!
Have a wonderful day!

Lynn Coulter May 12, 2014, 1:10 pm

These are great ideas for gardens hit by drought. We liked it so much, we’re sharing an image on The Home Depot Garden Club Pinterest board. Thanks. Lynn Coulter 4 THD

Debra Lee Baldwin July 7, 2014, 1:58 am

Thank you all! I’m sold on the idea of dry stream beds, and plan to incorporate one in my garden. The challenge is getting enough rocks and boulders!

Kristi Beach June 7, 2015, 4:27 pm

Hi Debra, I’ve always meant to thank you for taking a photo of my first garden exhibit at the Del Mar Fair, and including it in your book. Every time I stumble across an image of that exhibit on Pinterest, I get a little thrill. It’s always gratifying knowing people like what you do. Thanks again!
Kristi Beach, Akana Design

Gretchen williams August 16, 2016, 11:07 am

We live in n California Central Valley and live in rural area. We have removed 3000 daft of lawn facing west and want to replace with drought landscape using granite Crete pathways, rocks and convert to micro irrigation for trees and plants. Looking for ideas. Also do u know of contractor who can install granite Crete walkways. Thank you

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