Living in a dry climate, the idea of a dry streambed as a feature of the landscape seems like a natural. The Japanese have been constructing them for centuries. Water is a key feature in their gardening tradition. Where there is no natural water present and where it is too difficult to bring water in, they developed the idea of a dry streambed. A dry streambed conveys the idea that water flows through it at least at some point in time.
In our area, arroyos are perfect examples of a dry streambed. For most of the year, they are dry channels, but, with the coming of the summer monsoons, they can turn into raging torrents. While most of us have neither arroyos nor streams running through our properties, by using rock and gravel along with plants, we can develop a desert stream version of the dry streambed.
The dry streambed can be sited to collect water off your property, such as off of a house roof, and used to water plants along the sides.
Begin by digging a shallow trench, which can be as wide as you want your stream to be. Line the sides with various sizes of rounded boulders. Use a combination of river rocks and gravel of different sizes to line the trench. Be sure that the water can infiltrate the streambed and/or channel it so that it flows downhill away from any structures.
The plants used along the sides of your desert stream should be those found naturally growing alongside an arroyo system.
These include many desirable native ornamentals, such as desert willow, Apache plume, bush penstemon, screwbean mesquite, honey mesquite, chocolate flower, chamisa, and various grasses.
Remember that even a man-made streambed needs a natural looking beginning and ending by starting it from under a plant, wall, or other structure.
Plant of the Month: The Chihuahua Pineapple Cactus, Echinomastus intertextus, is a small barrel cactus that will soon be in bloom in the foothills of the local mountains. It is one of the first plants to bloom in spring.
Chihuahua Pineapple Cactus has pretty white to pink-tinted flowers. It is shaped like a pineapple and is native to the Chihuahuan Desert from which it gets its name. Chihuahua Pineapple Cactus is easy to grow from seed. Collect the fruits a month or so after blooming and you will have plenty of seed to grow plants for your garden.
(Editor’s note: Ted Hodoba, a Veguita resident, is the author of a regional best-selling book on desert gardening. )