We’ve been landscaping our yard for four months now. Four months! Our living room still does not have baseboards, and our bathroom windows refuse to open. But our yard came as a weed infested trash pit and I grew up touring gardens like this, so landscaping we have been.

Jichang Garden, WuXi, China

It also makes sense to landscape as early as we could since perennials take time to grow. Since May, we have planted 22 fruit trees and shrubs, 4 climbing roses, 2 climbing vines, 28 perennial flowers, and a 400-sqft vegetable garden. In spite of the heavy clay soil, everything is doing exceptionally well and putting on lots of growth.



We planted most of perennials in early Spring. By early summer, we had seen the rewards from our planting. The early success totally messed up my dopamine system. So late summer, in true avalanche fashion, I gutted our front yard.


Well, to be fair, Slav gutted our front yard. Slav lifted 600 sqft turf grass, and Slav sifted through the topsoil to remove roots and weeds. Although, he did it upon my order request. I designed the garden and bought plants, and I told him where to dig. Of course, knowing Slav would be the one doing all the physical work subconsciously led to my over-design of the front yard garden.

Slav really deserves a metal of “the best husband in 2018”. He did not question at all my decision and plans and he did not even ask what plants I ordered. His blind trust landed him sooo much dirt work which ate up a solid month of his spare time, and an additional week to build the retaining wall.


We spent three weekends alone just to sift soil. But at the end, we are rewarded with weed-free, crumbly and rich soil that is great for planting:



And thanks to the cooler weather in August, our arborvitae survived just fine despite being planted in the middle of summer.


Yet, just when we were gearing up to fall planting, I spotted some nice dry creeks in our neighborhood. Dry creeks are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also an effective way to retain water and prevent storm water runoff.

Still sore from the retaining wall built, I approached Slav for the possibility of incorporating a dry creek into our front yard landscaping. My guy, my hero, who was busy making dough for the family at that time, responded, “Sure, map it out and I will build it”.

Don’t you just love this guy? I do.

So, last weekend we got a ton of river cobbles from a local rock shop:


And constructed our first dry creek!


To not undermine the hard work Slav had put in, here are some numbers:

1. Determining the shape of the dry creek with 2 electrical cords:

For marking boundaries I prefer electrical cords to garden hoses for better flexibility. The goal is to direct the water from the corner downspout to the garden area, then to slow it down so all the rain water can be slowly seeping into the garden.


As part of the planning, I marked where the plants (we have 50 of them coming!) would go with rocks.




As you can see, the dry creek mostly follows the slope but fans out and terminates 2/3 downhill on the slope.



2. Digging a 130 ft long, 3-5 feet wide, and 1.5 feet deep trench:

This step was not hard at all given that we have already turned the soil in most places. We formed swales as creek beds, which are basically shallow trenches perpendicular to the slope. The dirt removed from the trench was pilled downhill along the swales to form berms, which are like dams to retain water in the swales. Berms and swales are common ways in permaculture to slow down water and topsoil run off from a hill.




3. Laying and pinning down 4-ft wide landscape fabric:

We have serious bindweed issue in our yard, so we put down some landscape fabric before filling the creek bed with rocks. The side of landscape fabric facing down has fine hair to wick moisture, which helps water to seep down into the soil.




4. Layering in river rocks and big boulders to get the “creek” look:

As mentioned before, we got a ton of 1.5″ size local river cobbles. We also got a pallet of big boulders (for $45!!!) from the Resource Central’s retail store (where we got the retaining wall blocks). As Slav shoveled the cobbles into the creek bed, I set the boulders randomly along the creek for a more nature look. I am not artistic at all so it took a while for the creek to look semi-acceptable. I am sure there will be more tweaking down the road.







5. Connecting the downspout to the dry creek

The last step of the dry creek construction was to direct water from the corner downspout to the creek bed. To keep the lawn continuous, we decided to bury a pipe under the lawn that connects the downspout with the dry creek. We have a piece of 4″ black PVC laying around and guess what, it fits the distance perfectly! 🙂


We used a piece of flexible elbow to connect the downspouts to the PVC pipe:


And a flexible T connection at the end of the black PVC pipe splits the water into each side of the creek bed.


Slav lifted the sod carefully then dug down another 4″ deep to bury the pipe.


The downspout had to sink lower into the ground to accommodate the sod on top. (See how we graded around the foundation here.)


Slav put the sod back on and patched it perfectly:



We then refilled the rock back to bury the downspout end of the connection:



The T connection sits at the bottom of the creek bed. We put some water through the downspout to make sure that the dry creek worked properly:


We then installed garden edging around the PVC pipe and this is the final result!



6. Fall Planting in two weeks!

Now the dry creek is done, we are FINALLY ready for planting. We have over 50 perennial flowers and shrubs coming in by the end of this month, and I am pumped to wrap up everything landscaping for 2018. I will be sure to walk you through all the plants with my camera once the dirt is settled. Just for reference: here is a video in which I explained our 2018 gardening goals back to the Spring – you can tell that we were not thinking about landscaping front yard at all! But the nice thing about being a home owner is precisely this: to be able to shift focus and do whatever we want, right?