Design help needed for my dry gulch project

Jon 6a SE MAAugust 1, 2012

I have an area where I have collected rocks of variuous sizes and created a dry gulch. In the Spring I would like to start on a project there.

I would like to plant both sides of the gully with one type of hosta all the way down. I would also like to plant lighter, smaller hostas in between the rocks to simulate bubbling water.

The Gully goes from lightly dappled sun at the top to very heavy shade at the bottom. There is moss growing on both sides, so there is some moisture. I am thinking maybe something like Queen of the Seas only smaller would be ideal. I think a large hosta like QOS itself would overpower the rocks and make the gully look too small. I also need something that likes deep shade.

Something smaller for placement into the "stream" section with wavy edges that could take the shade might work. I don't think variegated would take the deep shade or that would be my choice.

I'm very interested in what the the very inventive people here might suggest, even something other than hostas. Small ferns interspersed in the rocks???

The only renumeration for help with this design is bragging rights.



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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

I don't think you are allowed to say "Gulch" in Massachusetts. You have to be west of the Mississippi to use that word. Gully or Dried Stream Bed will do just fine.

How about Celtic Dancer?

Mine's in its first year, but it will grow up to be medium upright with a little bit of red in the pets and leaves about the size of your hand. Leaves are ruffled, and have a twist at the tip. New from Don Dean.


    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 10:53AM
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jan_on zone 5b

What a great project, and a pretty impressive collection of rocks! Not exciting, but a bank of lancifolia along the edge would create a nice backdrop for some ferns and a collection of more interesting hostas. I have a "row" of three lancifolia and they are pristine in spite of nasty weather. They spread nicely, and are very tidy and well behaved. Workhorses for sure.
The bench in the second pic must be designed to keep you working and not just sitting around lol.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 10:54AM
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

What a great idea for an interesting hosta garden--I like how the "dry creek bed" winds so informally. Given that feature, I was wondering if you might like to consider planting a variety of different hosta--and not in a straight "hedge row" either. It seems to me that the windy, informal layout is crying out for plants that also wind casually along. Wouldn't uniformity of plant types look a bit artificial there? I like the lancifolia suggesstion for a backdrop and some ferns scattered here and there.

Perhaps you have a clearer vision of that you want to accomplish than I do, so do go with whatever seems to work best for you. But take a couple minutes to think about the more "natural" look, inspired by your dry creek bed.

The whole project has so much potential that I predict it will look wonderful, no matter what way you decide to go. Good luck. Wish I were there to watch it evolve.


    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 11:06AM
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Cannot resist dropping a suggestion in here. That contorted tree where the gully makes a turn to come down toward the camera, on the left it is, plant that with some larger ferns. How about some ostrich fern or cinnamon ferns, do not recall your climate. But without competing for moisture with that tree, let the ferns have that spot, and come on down.

No regular lines of regimented plants should intrude on this natural setting. Toward the bottom of your planting area, instead of simply STOPPING, make it a rounded spot of hosta like a lot of seeds washed down to that area and grew. If it is sunny there, and you have a much larger rock, have that as your terminus. Failing the presence of a rock, try some gravel surrounding a sundial on a post, if it is sunny, or a wrecked old plow or something to show days gone by. Some OBJECT which resonates with you. And which is fairly large too, but not dominating the scene. Perhaps just suggesting that in the past, someone else was here before YOU. And someday, it will be rediscovered by a future generation, and wondered about.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 11:22AM
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Jon 6a SE MA

Steve, I must have watched to many westerns as a kid.

Celtic dancer is a consideration.

Jan, Lancifolia might be good for in between the rocks here and there as it is wavy. It is a tough area and I know if I try to get too fancy by mixing it up I will be setting myself up for grief. I think KISS is the byword for this project.

The bench is soon to be retired as it is rotting away. The area below is my inner sanctum, so be careful who you let know about it.

I have some pressure treated wood left over from projects. With a few new purchases there will be a good solid bench to replace the Adirondak which will probably be kindling when the next burning season rolls around; Shhhh. It is not PT.


    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 11:42AM
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Jon 6a SE MA


I like ferns, but, I have failed several times to grow them on the side of the Gulch. I tried again this year where they get more sun and (cross your fingers) they are surviving. There are a lot of native ferns in back that I might try and transplant. I do like ferns, but somehow they don't like far. I don't "intend" to start until Spring, but once I get something rattling around; who knows. Your suggestion on keeping it natural is well taken.

Holy cow, moccassin; that boulder on the left looking down is HUGE. It took me 1 hour to move it 12 feet with my digging pole it is quite large. 3 1/2 feet long by 3 feet deep by 2 1/2 feet high. That is well over 1500 pounds of rock.

I have another about 3 1/2 feet long that I will roll over to the gully.

...and another which will "anchor" it as much as my back will take.

I do have a sundail. It was broken into pieces by a falling branch over the winter. I might try to epoxy it together; but I think it will go next to the new bench. It is not old enough looking to fit at the gully.

I do like your ideas and I will try to keep it as natural as possible.

The concrete blocks will go.

Thanks everyone,


    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 12:31PM
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Jon 6a SE MA

How about some Goatsbeard? I'm thinking it is bulletproof and some patches of it would lighten up what might otherwise be a dark area. I think it is good in deep shade. It could work as an area planting around the boulder anchors....Hmmmm???

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 1:09PM
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Jon 6a SE MA

...and at the top right looking up; a Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' (Japanese forest grass) that would give an arching fountain illusion and should survive in the lighter area.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 1:41PM
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Love your rock gully! Please continue to post pics as you work on this. I'd love to see your progress and the finished project.

And wow, I'm impressed that you were able to move that huge rock. There are several large rocks that I have my eyes on for my garden, but way to big for me to move without a bulldozer.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 2:14PM
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bernd ny zone5

I love those big rocks!!! I have a 60 ft dry creek which does not have those. Next to hostas I also use Japanese primulas, large ferns, Rodgersia, 2 sizes of astilbes, rhododendrons, hellebores, conifers.

I made my creek bed buying bags of round gravel, round pool rocks, and 10 and 20 lb rocks (those from a nursery). You could extend your creek bed all the way down by using existing rocks and buy those bags at HD or Lowes. It is fun to watch the water run down during a large downpour.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 3:29PM
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Jon 6a SE MA

HostaHosta, I will be sure to post pictures. The only way for one person to move boulders like that is with a digging pole. Wasn't it Archimedese that said "Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I can move the world."

I think my digging pole is about 7 feet long.


    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 3:56PM
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Jon 6a SE MA


Rocks are lying around for the picking around here. I'm sure I will be trucking more over to the gully once I get going. A good cleaning out with a leaf blower will help as well.

Now I have to look up Primulas and Rodgersia...but I am leaning to simplicity. A mass of hostas on the sides a couple of accent plants and some planted among the rocks. The bed of hosta will follow all the in and outs already there as natural looking as possible.

In other words, this ain't gonna to be no cottage garden. :^) Sometime when I'm feeling artistic I might draw up a plot plan.


    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 4:27PM
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bernd ny zone5

You have a lot going for you, the long slope, the rocks and a lot of space. You can plant with the dry creek bed as center piece.
There is another plant which likes wetness, I have ligularia 'Sky Rocket', just finished blooming its yellow spikes. It becomes tall and wide, is good for wet background in the shade.
I am still working on my own creek bed, still planting and still improving. It is fun! Bernd

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 6:05PM
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Jonny, your dry bed reminds me of the gorgeous dry bed in the linked picture. Maybe it will give you some ideas.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 7:48PM
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The title sez 'DRY' gulch, so my first though was succulents (fancy cacti).

Now, on the other hand, should you make it a running water 'dell', the Hosta world is your jewel.


    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 12:07AM
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Jon 6a SE MA

Lavender that dry bed is super. It has a better sun exposure. I could not (If I was capable) duplicate it without a substantial logging operation.

HH, the "Dell" title is already taken by my shed area.

..and I don't think cacti would do very well here.

OK, the boulders ended up as a small sitting wall-

All it took was my trusty digging pole and a sore back.

I'm thinking of Hakonechoa, Aurea (Japanese Forest Grass at the top of the gully.
and maybe some Vinca Minor-

A small sample of the massive amounts I have.

among a lot of Halycon-

I know Halycon may be boring to the avid collectors, but I think it will look great and I am convinced I need something to suit the deep shade.

Then I will put this...

Blue Angel behind the seating wall and probably sprinkle some other plants around the edges.

OK, I will update progress in the Spring...when my back straightens out.


PS- the swing is not broken it just gets set to the side so a small swing for my grandson can be put in place.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 10:08AM
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irawon(5a Ottawa)

Hi Jon.

What an exciting project to be able to look forward to next spring. I love the way your dry bed meanders and contains rocks of varying sizes. Two suggestions that I like are:

1. to keep things natural and simple. I wouldn't put rows of the same hostas on either side of your dry stream because that usually doesn't happen in nature.
2. Moccasin's idea to put a large rock at the bottom of your stream as a landing point.

I would use the larger rocks in the stream to anchor smaller hostas or whatever. You could use a few hachonechloa 'Aurea' at intervals along the side of the bed to draw your eye along the stream. I've seen this concept used along a path.

Although I love astilbes, I would stay away from them here. I've used 3 goatsbeards/ aruncus and they do well in shade once established. I love the ferny, miniature Aruncus aestusifolius. I also have used Aruncus "Misty Lace' (doesn't get too large) and aruncus dioicus kneffii. They're all doing fine during drought.

A perennial that does well in dry shade is Lamiastrum 'Hermann's Pride'. Epimediums also do well in dry conditions once they're established.

I would put a large dramatic hosta like Majesty for example at the top of the stream to the right opposite the large tree.

I envy you your zone 6 because you could also use Japanes Maples for contrasting leaf colour.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 12:06PM
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Jon 6a SE MA


Great suggestions. Well, there is a Japanese Maple at the top of the hill. It is so shady, even where it gets most sun the maple foliage is a flat disc as if it is optimizing its shape to catch as much sun as possible.

I think you are right about simply two lines of all the same hostas. It is a tough spot though. The canopy is pretty dense. Pines needles cover the area and a light pass through with Roundup each year keeps it pretty well clear. I think Sieboldianas would work. I have some Frances Williams and Elagans which do well in deep shade. I was shying away as I thought they may have been too big. I need to clean it out, add some more rocks start planting stakes for spacing and envision how it might come together when it is mature. I do like the Forest Grass along the edges, but I don't know how they might do in such heavy shade.

You have some real good ideas. I will have to give it some thought over the winter and I do appreciate your thoughts. It will not be just solid lines along each edge.

I may even get out the chain saw and open it up some.



    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 8:59PM
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jan_on zone 5b

And a more practical suggestion - if you plan to move those BIG boulders any more - buy beer, invite the boys over, save your back for digging planting holes.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 9:41PM
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