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The riverbed look ... without water.

In a normal year, gardeners rely on plants to create a pleasing environment around their houses. But in a year when many are required to think dry, you can enhance the scene instead with artful rockwork. These gardens are inspired by natural riverbeds, evoking the imagery of moving water without the water.

The rockwork in these gardens is more than ood-looking; each solves a problem

or meets a specific need.

Drought challenges us to find solutions that satisfy the soul, as well as to address the immediate necessity. Creativity with rock is one answer. Combined with a few plants, well-placed stones can give you the look of a watery wilderness. The rocks also serve as a permanent mulch, reducing water loss by evaporation from the soil.

But be aware that, particularly inland, too much sun-baked rock can collect furnacelike heat. Note that these gardens all include substantial cooling greenery, and that in most cases where rocky areas are large, the rock is shaded by trees during the hottest part of the day.

Here's what each gardener did and why.

After the 1977 drought, the Koenigs had a dead lawn

Instead of replanting it, Heinz Koenig of San Jose decided to expand on the natural, woodsy look of his garden's droughttolerant perimeter trees. He covered the entire area with rock arranged to resemble a dry stream bed (top of page 246).

First, Mr. Koenig removed the last vestiges of dichondra lawn with weed killer. Then he positioned the big boulders and cobbles, partially embedding those near paths to give firmer footing and easier leaf cleanup. He filled areas between boulders with pea gravel spread about 3 inches thick. Along the "banks," he placed short vertical pilings, driftwood, and (when water was available again) a few prostrate junipers.

By eliminating the lawn and taking more care not to overwater other plants, he cut water use by a third.

Helping cars and plants coexist

By the roadside, Mr. Koenig needed to keep cars from bashing plants. Stones in the buffer zone (bottom of page 246) are large enough to discourage drivers from pulling off the pavement, but the 3to 5-foot-wide strip is low enough to let passengers exit comfortably without mangling or being mangled by the shrubbery.

A dry stream to handle drainage

Tom Parker of Citrus Heights, California, accentuated grading done when his house was built, forming the drain channel into a curving "stream bed" shown at center left on page 246. He brought in compatible soil to build undulating mounds along the banks and lined the drain channel with pebbles and cobbles.

Coping with a slope

The slope shown above was too rocky to plant, but too unattractive and erosionprone to ignore. Pat and Barry Powell terraced it with tiers of sandstone anchored by digging out or adding in soil as required. Most plants volunteered from seeds scattered by plants in other parts of the garden. Although there is a path to one side, the stones are set firmly enough to double as a short-cut stairway.

For walkways

Like the Japanese, Karen Kees uses changes in paving to direct stollers in her garden in Poway, California. Main paths are paved with large stone slabs, closely set; less formal side paths like the one shown at right use cobble-edged gravel.

For walking, pea gravel spread 2 to 3 inches deep is most comfortable. Thinner layers tend to scatter too quickly; thicker ones are harder to walk on. Edgings o rock or wood reduce dispersal.

Additional practical details

To understand how rocks lie in natural settings, study sites you like in person and in photographs. Notice that riverbeds almost always consist of stones of various sizes, with a gradual gradation between them. On the tight side of a bend, there are often larger boulders; on the outer side, finer particles often settle.

Use rock sizes that are in scale with your setting and also with each other. In a small garden such as the one at lower left on page 246, huge boulders would be overpowering; 2-inch river run and 6-inch cobbles are big enough to do the job successfully and can also be hauled in a wheelbarrow.

The Koenig stream bed covers a bigger area, so it took bigger rocks and more intermediate sizes to achieve a finished look. The largest rocks here are the maximum size that one person can handle safely.

Pea gravel and river run pebbles both cost roughly $20 to $40 a ton, depending on color; a ton can cover 80 to 100 square feet 2 to 3 inches deep. Cobbles about 6 inches across cost about $50 a tonenough to cover 60 square feet. Larger boulders cost substantially more.

You'll find sources for rock listed under that heading in the yellow pages.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:May 1, 1989
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