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What makes a good dry streambed?

Dry riverbeds can be a very ornamental addition to a low water use garden, or they can be horribly ugly! Here are a few things to think about when planning a dry riverbed:

This first image is an actual dry stream. Instinctively, we know when we are looking at something designed by nature, but what are we actually seeing here? Paying attention to nature can make all the difference between a dry streambed that looks awful and one that increases the curb appeal of your home.

1) Streams happen at low spots because that is how water flows. Because of this, your streambed needs to be carved out in a gentle “u” shape. This sounds obvious but is the most overlooked element of a well designed dry riverbed.

2) Water sculpts real streams. In times when the stream is high, it carves away at the streambank, leaving behind larger boulders that are carved into the banks, not placed next to them!

3) As the water flow lessens through the spring, the heavier cobbles fall out of the flow, getting deposited towards the outside of the streambed while the middle of the stream is still flowing. As this continues, the middle of the stream becomes a pattern of smaller cobbles and gravel. A common mistake is only using one size of smaller material for the center of the stream.

Here are a few examples, some better than others:

This is a pretty high quality artificial streambed. The side boulders are fairly artistically arranged and they have used varying sizes of cobbles in the stream. It has the “u” shape and this allows for the small bridge.

This one is what the industry referrs to as a necklace because the boulders are strung along the edges without any breaks. Natural streams do not do this. Also, the coble in the center is all large an the same size.

This stream is not bad but a few small changes would have made it significantly more natural: a deeper dug out “u” shape and more rounded boulders. Boulders along a stream have been eroded by the water so they have sinuous soft shapes, not hard edges.

This dry river does a few odd things. It is not dug out at all so it looks like the gravel is scattered on the ground like a pathway. The boulders are quite angular and they have created little dams using ledgestones, which don’t look at all like something a stream would naturally do since ledgestones are very angular and not at all weathered looking. At least it isn’t a necklace, and the accompanying plantings are quite nice.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at www.sageoutdoordesigns.com

Fake shakes

I typically steer clients away from products that are man-made reproductions because they mostly don’t come close to measuring up to the original. I find this to be true for almost all porcelain tiles attempting to be stone (with the exception of Porcelanosa). And while artificial stone veneers are often a cost effective option, I think they don’t hold a candle to natural stone, especially now that there are so many thin cut veneer stones available (Thompson’s Building Materials has my favorite selection for natural stone veneers).

So when I find a man-made product that I can’t tell is fake, I think it is worth noting. The fiber cement shingles by Nichiha are one of these products. Natural cedar shake is expensive and requires a lot of upkeep. Nichiha’s option gives the same look without repainting or restaining. They designed them to have a lot of variation so they look hand-stained, and the colors are fantastic. Dixiline is supposed to start carrying their brand locally.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at www.sageoutdoordesigns.com

How to un-slip slippery tile

Since outdoor tile and stone can become very slippery when it rains, I like to use a micro-etcher on any honed natural stone tiles, porcelain tile, or other potentially slippery paving outside. My favorite is a local company called Sliptech. Here is their website: http://sliptech.com/

Their product creates tiny pockets in the surface of the tile. We test it on each material before applying it on the job, but so far it has not drastically changed the finish or color of anything I have tested it on. I would probably be more hesitant to use it on a polished stone, since it may cut down on the shine, but I wouldn’t typically use a polished stone outside anyhow.

Not having to worry about the slip factor opens up a whole new world of products for use outdoors. I especially recommend the treatment when doing a waterjet mosaic in the front entry, since these are often honed.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at www.sageoutdoordesigns.com

No longer astroturf but…..

In the search to save water a lot of people have been deciding to put in artificial turf. Hundreds of companies have cropped up with newer, better, fake grass. Aesthetically, it has made leaps and bounds recently, but when my clients ask if I recommend using it, my answer typically is “no”. So I wanted to take the opportunity to compare the up and down sides of artificial turf.

The upsides:

1) It doesn’t need to be watered. At Kate Presents, we consider this a pretty big upside.
2) It doesn’t need to be weeded, mowed, fertilized, or aerated. It is easy for people with busy lifetsyles.

The downsides:

1) It isn’t grass! It isn’t alive so you lose the benefits of real life plants. It doesn’t remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It doesn’t cool the air. It doesn’t squidge nicely under your toes when you walk barefoot.
2) It can get quite warm. Be especially aware of companies that use recycle tires for their filler material. It is black rubber, so it can get hot enough to burn kids and pets feet. Opt for the sand filler instead, if the company you chose offers it.
3) It is a petroleum product. There really isn’t any avoiding the central issue that it is essentially a green plastic carpet laid down outside. I’d like to see us use less plastic in the landscape, not more.
4) Most brands are not recyclable. With a few noteworthy exceptions, the backing and blades are inseparable and therefor unrecyclable. ProLawn is one of the few companies that has a product hat can be recycled.
5) It is expensive. Although it is possible to find deals in the $8-9 a square foot range, most companies offer their product at around $12 a square foot installed.

So what else is there? I think the key is that we need to let go of our belief that gardens should be 90% lawn with some trees and shrubs around the edges. It is possible to create beautiful outdoor spaces without a lawn or a fake lawn. Here are a few images that I hope illustrate this:

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at www.sageoutdoordesigns.com

Pseudo- English gardening

A lot of people love the English Garden style with its colorful perennial borders and boisterous flowers, but a typical English garden is very high maintenance and typically high water use as well. Here are a few drought tolerant and low maintenance plants for an English/California garden:

From top left: Penstemon ‘Margarita Bop’, Buddleja davidii, Anisodentea hypomandrum, Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’, Lavatera ‘Red Rum’, Gaura lindhamaerii, Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at www.sageoutdoordesigns.com