Garden Photo of the Day

Nina’s dry stream bed in Montana

--AFTER-- Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

It’s Day 3 in Nina Eadie’s garden in Montana. Today we’re checking out her dry stream bed. She says, “When we bought this property, there was a natural depression roughly where the dry streambed is now, and during the 4 months between buying the property and moving in, Bud and I envisioned turning it into a dry streambed.

–BEFORE– Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nina Eadie

“When we got here, though, we discovered that my very helpful brother-in-law, who loves order, had filled it in when he dragged the property to get rid of the weeds! So, we had a friend with a tractor recontour it for us, and I started filling it in with rocks from another piece of property we own nearby. I soon realized that this was going to take a REALLY long time, so we got a trailer-load of boulders from a man we knew on the west side who was clearing his property, and our friend with the tractor set them for us. Once the boulders were set, we had a truckload of 2″ – 6” rock brought in and our friend filled in around the boulders with those (it’s really nice to have a friend with a tractor!).

–BEFORE–  Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nina Eadie

“It is functional, but we don’t see it often because we don’t get that much snow here in the Bitterroot Valley. But our property is pretty much at the bottom of the downhill slope of the loop our house is on, so when the snow does melt it runs down the street along the edge of our property to a drain at the very bottom that goes under the street and runs down into our field below. I’ve gradually recontoured the land around the end of the driveway to redirect the flow into the streambed, and it does flow down the streambed and at the bottom it funnels it right into the drain.

–DURING– Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nina Eadie

“I have to confess that I didn’t really have a planting plan for the edges of the streambed, and it’s been a lot of trial and error, especially since I went from a Sunset zone 24 garden in California to a USDA zone 4 garden in Montana! It has been a challenge.

–AFTER–  Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nina Eadie

“First of all, I wanted it to look sort of realistic. But real streamside plants get a lot of water, and we’re really dry here. So, I had to find plants that would look sort of wild and natural but that would get by without a lot of extra water. I also wanted it to be pretty densely planted along the path between the stream and the fence, but I didn’t want to hide the streambed. So, I’ve tried to plant in pockets down into the streambed with plants that don’t get so tall that they will hide the streambed. It’s still in the process of evolving, and it’ll be quite a few more years I’m sure before it’s the way we envisioned it.

–AFTER–  Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nina Eadie

“If I had it to do over again, I would have left more room for the path between the fence and the stream, because it’s hard to create a good flow on the fence side and still leave enough room for the lawn tractor, which I use to haul things up and down the path and also for the golf cart, which I use to take Mom up and down the path when things are blooming.

–AFTER–  Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

“The other thing I would NEVER, EVER do again is use weedcloth under the mulch. As a gardener I should have known better. Plants die or get too big or don’t get along with their neighbor and inevitably you have to move them, and inevitably the spot you want to relocate them to has weedcloth! It’s such a nuisance, and I still have weeds! Never again!”

–AFTER–  Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

Gorgeous, Nina, just gorgeous, and I love the action shots of the water flowing down the streambed! Thanks so much for sharing. ***Tomorrow we’ll visit the garden Nina left behind to move to Montana!***

–AFTER–  Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

It’s almost SPRING, people! I know you’re going through your photos from last year, planning what you’ll do differently this year. Send some of those photos in to me! [email protected]

–IN ACTION–  Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nina Eadie
–IN ACTION–  Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nina Eadie
–IN ACTION–  Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Nina Eadie

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View Comments


  1. user-1020932 03/05/2014

    Nina, all i can possibly say is that i like/love everything about your home and garden. it's ALL just super in every way

  2. greengenes 03/05/2014

    Well Nina.. absolutely beautiful! You have made your place more private to where it dosent seem like you live out in amongst other homes. I think you did very well on the types of plantings! What is the light blue plants? With the stream bed has it brought in more animals or birds to your yards? Its all so fun to see what you have done! I guess I have to wait to see more tomarrow from where you moved from! It should be great as well! Thanks

  3. flowerladydi 03/05/2014

    Nina,,,,, it is absolutely FABULOUS!!!!! WHAT a HUGE undertaking you had!!,, and the result is so great!!!,, you should be so proud of what you have accomplished!
    I know what you mean about the cloth,,,,, I have used it in the past too,, and have cursed it ever since for the most part,,,, I guess we learn by trial and error!
    I think your choice of plant material is great!,,,, and the dry bed look to be doing it's job!,,, and in such a beautiful way.,,,,,

  4. mainer59 03/05/2014

    You may think you struggled to find plant material, but you hit the jackpot with perovskia (Russian sage)! I learned that lesson about weed cloth the hard way, too. Weeds did grow in it and they were impossible to pull out since the root mass was too big to come through the little puncture hole the weed made in the cloth when it sprouted. I eventually removed every bit of it.

  5. user-1020932 03/05/2014

    that weed cloth has caused me more frustration and bad language than anything i have ever encountered in a landscape. if we start a project that already has it,,,,first thing remove ALL weed cloth

  6. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 03/05/2014

    absolutely amazing!

  7. tractor1 03/05/2014

    Your dry stream bed looks great, and it's well planted too. I wouldn't add many more plants or they will obscure the steam bed and crowd each other as they grow... I like space between plantings and features. As your plants grow and fill in eventually you won't need that shredded bark mulch... and you'll have a lovely stand of spruce trees... they'll do well as they don't like wet feet. Weed block cloth works well if used prudently... I use it in my vegetable garden with sucess... each spring I roll it up, roto till, and lay it back down, otherwise I'd have to spend days weeding before I could plant and weeding many hours each day during the growing season. Obviously whether to use weed block cloth depends on terrain, here it's all bottom land, deep rich topsoil and more water than I'd like; weeds grow, well like weeds. Even during the dryest summers I never need to water. Nina, I love all you've accomplished, kudos!

  8. GardenGrl1 03/05/2014

    What an incredible transformation! It is absolutely beautiful and looks so natural, like the landscape has been there forever!

    Do not feel bad about the weed cloth. Here's my confession: I used weed cloth underneath my birdbath area, which I filled with lots of pretty little stones. I also hung a birdfeeder. So, every week, I was going out and pulling the hundreds of little (but surprisingly stong),growing plants from the fallen seeds out of all those pretty, tiny little rocks. Which of course, made holes in the weed cloth. It is being ripped out this year. Lesson learned and shared.

    Spring is around the corner, everyone!

  9. User avater
    meander_michaele 03/05/2014

    Goodness, Nina, what an, that's a project with a capital P! It looks like it has wonderful 4 season interest with your inclusion of evergreens, grasses... even the Russian sage has an attractive ghostly winter interest. You really did an amazing job making it look like the work of Mother Nature.
    Whew, that had to be quite an adjustment to go from your CA planting zone to the zone 4 of MT. Looks like you mastered the learning curve with an A+.

  10. wGardens 03/05/2014

    Nina.... this is wonderful. What a lot of work... and planning. It looks great. One of the best I've seen.

  11. user-1020932 03/05/2014

    one more look before i head out, Nina,,,,,,,,,,,you rock

  12. Srasgarden 03/05/2014

    I am in awe! Not only are your gardens amazing but the natural beauty of the area is incredible. Having never been in this part of this country, we are definitely going to put Montana on our "road trip itinerary" for Phil's grand retirement tour. Love it - thank you!

  13. pattyspencer 03/05/2014

    My favorite picture is the dry bed one with the snow and water - looks so natural

  14. bee1nine 03/05/2014

    MOST AWESOME!! Hard to imagine ALL that was involved and the
    backbone labor so far, to create your marvelous, realistic-
    looking dry streambed! And so wonderfully placed plant choices nearby. It's ALL so GRAND, Nina!!!

  15. tractor1 03/05/2014

    I know everyone calls it "weed block cloth" but the correct nomencalture is "landscaping cloth". And it has many uses, primarily for erosion control like on newly planted slopes where it's ofen used on new roadway shoulders. The cloth comes in many grades; thicknesses and sizes. The cloth sold at the typical hardware store is worthless, it's much too thin with a weave that's too holey. I buy mine from, it lasts more than ten years in my vegetable garden and I leave it down all winter. I wouldn't use cloth in flower beds or it will cause the problems mentioned here, in my beds I use a thick layer of pine bark nuggets, just add some more every couple years... I tried mulch in my vegetable garden, it only gets in the way of tilling. The cloth works very well, easy to roll up at planting time and easy to lay back down... I've rarely had a weed grow up through the cloth from Leevalley. When I had my creek repaired due to erosion from a storm after excavating to make it wider and deeper it was covered with a very thick landscaping cloth from 16' wide bolts, then covered with stones (riprap). The cloth held the soil until the plants could grow, now to look you'd never know the creek was repaired. Mine is a real natural creek, it's listed on the NYS wetlands register, when it's flowing high it even contains baby trout. I argued with the state to repair it but in the end I paid for the job myself. There is nothing wrong with using "weed block cloth" when used correctly and of a proper grade.

  16. quinquek 03/05/2014

    Wow. I had no idea you weren't more isolated. There is such a sense of privacy to your property. Going from a blank slate to what you have created requires a kind of overarching vision I certainly don't have! Love it all!

  17. CJgardens 03/05/2014

    Wow! To repeat the praises of all the others - beautiful. Your vision and design of all your spaces is inspiring. I can't get over how large the trees are inside the fenced area in less than 7 years. And thanks for the tips on pruning roses. Anticipating your CA photos.
    Carol Jean

  18. wildthyme 03/05/2014

    Thank you all once again for your kind words . . . and I love my fellow-gardeners' confessions about their battles with landscape-cloth! Greengenes, you probably picked this up from the other comments, but the light-blue flower is perovskia, or Russian sage (unless you're asking about the one in the lower photo, which is nepeta, or catmint). This has been a fun week getting to know you all better and sharing our garden with you!

  19. wildthyme 03/05/2014

    My husband, Bud, doesn't use the computer, but I've been sharing all the photos and comments with him this week, and he also wanted to say "thank you" for all the nice feedback. He's too modest to admit it, but he's been as responsible for the evolution of our gardens as I, and not just the hard work, but a lot of the vision as well, so I have to give him a big "thank you," too!

  20. janetsfolly 03/05/2014

    This garden might win the contest for most 'wows!', and rightly so! This is the most beautiful created stream bed I've ever seen, as the plantings are so natural and showcase the whole area so perfectly. It must have been so satisfying to see it functioning naturally, that says volumes about your careful work and planning, Nina and Bud. Michelle, I'm so glad you had the opportunity to visit this place (and a little envious!) and thank you heaps for helping us all to visit and enjoy!

    Tractor1, thanks for the input on landscape cloth. I may try that in my veg garden this year. Latest soil test says I need to stop using grass clippings for mulch for a couple years, too much N!

  21. GrannyMay 03/05/2014

    Nina, congratulations to both you and Bud! The transformation from your bare field in such a short time is incredible! As with the rest of your garden, the functional aspect is never forgotten, but is implemented in such a way as to add harmony and beauty. Love it all!

    I too have used weed cloth and regretted it. Like GardenGrl1 I put it down under decorative stones. My thought was to keep the stones from sinking into the soil, but I found that removing weeds was a lot more difficult and I finally removed the weedcloth. Yet I'm sure it would work well for those applications that Tractor1 has described.

  22. tractor1 03/05/2014

    GrannyMay :under stones it's best to use heavy plastic sheeting, available in rolls at hardware stores and larger plant nurseries. It keeps the stones from mixing with the soil and weeds can't root through so are easy to pull any from between the stones. Also with the plastic it's easy to scoop up the stones when you tire of them. When you notice puddling just poke a few drainage holes with a screwdriver or some such. I don't care for gravel type stones in a garden as even with the plastic sheeting they tend to migrate to adjacent areas, especially if you have pets (dogs will do their business on the gravel and then kick it far and wide), and squirrels will try to dig through the plastic too... larger birds (crows) will scratch at it as well.

    janetsfolly: I've tried many methods for controlling weeds in my vegetable garden but found the heavy cloth worked best. One year I even covered my garden with corrugated cardboard (free cartons from the liquor store), suggestion from a gardenin g magazine, don't do it, you'll encourage voles. My vegetable garden is 50' X 50', but I no longer plant it all, it produces too much, so now one third is in blueberry bushes, that section is carpeted with cloth too... the birds get most of the berries. Netting was too much work... I even built a tent of netting over that entire area, lasted until the snow caved it in.

    These days I'm into low/no maintenence, I'm getting too old to do more than what's necessary. Tending to 16 acres is a lot of work, I'll be 71 this May.

  23. wildthyme 03/05/2014

    Greengenes, it's been fascinating to see how the plantings and the dry streambed have brought in the birds. Even though I put out feeders, we had NO birds until we started getting the trees & shrubs in. We do see a fair number of animals (deer, fox, etc.) down in the field, but so far other than the occasional skunk, not too much in the yard (knock wood).

  24. GrannyCC 03/05/2014

    Wonderful pictures today and to learn all about weed cloth. I have found that thick layers of cardboard work well for a temporary result. If someone could invent and organic way to get rid of weeds they would make millions.

  25. annek 03/05/2014

    Hi Nina. You and Bud have truly created a natural work of art that fits so well in the Bitterroot Valley landscape. Perhaps not having a plan encouraged a more authentic vision. It is beautiful!

  26. sheila_schultz 03/05/2014

    I'm very late in posting today, but I was so blown away by the beauty you and Bud have created I needed to tell you both that I am in awe. To have the vision to take the natural depression in the soil and make it into a dry streambed that looks like it has always been there is inspiring. I ditto Jeff's and Annek's comments. You have done your property proud.
    PS Add me to the I HATE LANDSCAPE FABRIC group!

  27. cwheat000 03/05/2014

    I hate how developers just plop houses on a property with no landscaping. You have done a really wonderful job of totally transforming the vibe of your property. The house blends so nicely now with your stunning backdrop. Your plant choices are stunning and practical. The gray and blue tones of the Russian sage pick up the colors in the stones and spruces so nicely. I love the burgundy touches with that combo as well. The Allium karataviense is a totally underused plant; awesome choice.( I am guilty of not using it as well.) A+.

  28. cwheat000 03/05/2014

    Just out of curiosity how did you wind up in Montana from California? It has magnificent beauty, but is quite a switch.

  29. thegardenlady 03/05/2014

    You did a beautiful job. Natural dry stream beds in the west will have plants like the ones you used, plants able to gather just enough moisture from what is intermittently available. I really like what you've done and the look you've achieved. I was tricked (and should have known better) also into letting a 'landscaper' put weedblock under mulch on a path and regretted it so much I spent many sweaty and filthy hours pulling it up. I had questioned the plan and should have been more assertive. Next time. But tractor1's use sounds like a good use for it.

  30. TeriCA 03/05/2014

    WOW Nina!!
    I have all "B" words to describe what you have done, and the excellent before and after pictures! Big, Bold, Beautiful,Bitteroot, Big Sky Country... I can only imagine the challenges of gardening in that colder environment...Well done... :)

  31. TeriCA 03/05/2014

    "Blown Away!" Did I say Beautiful? Plus I love the discussion on the use of weed block/landscape fabric. I'm in a Soils class, and have learned that as the fabric decomposes, it becomes less porous, so not only is your soil starved for nutrients, but it won't get water either after a "prudent" use is the key word.... thanks for sharing..

  32. NevadaSue 03/06/2014

    Nina, What a beautiful garden. Your designs are wonderful and I really like the wide stream bed you created. Looking at yours makes we realize I need to widen mine even more in some areas. We have piles and piles of rock from our property waiting to go into the stream so I will not lack for rock. You give me courage to continue. I will not use the bark as we live in the desert and the wind would take it to the next county :) but I am already planting things on the side. thanks for sharing your garden and the process. I love it all :)

  33. Meelianthus 03/06/2014

    Hello Nina ~ I wish I could think of something more original so I will just say, your entire place is just beautiful! Your stream bed looks like it has been there forever. I love it. What a stunning job you have done, and all of those great rocks. You must have a lot of muscles now ^_^. All of those great pictures tell a wonderful story of your creation.

  34. tractor1 03/06/2014

    Landscaping cloth works great if one thinks of it as a tool, use the proper tool for the job. I don't recommend it for flower beds but it works well for foundation shrubs... I use it around newly planted saplings that I fence, saves me from weeding inside the fence until the sapling grows enough so I can safely remove the fence that the deer don't eat the tree. The cloth doesn't work well in areas that one needs to seasonally relocate plants like a flower bed but works very well in the more stably planted areas like around shrubs and trees.

  35. digginWA 03/06/2014

    Nina, I believe you have inspired my first comment here. Your creation has everything I'd want in the Montana garden of my imagination. The design, scale, materials, execution ... everything! I love it.

    We all have our landscape cloth stories, don't we? I've spent years trying to get it out of the beds at a family lake home. My horticulture instructor made it all clear when she drilled into us the importance of organic matter in soils and how a barrier like landscape cloth interferes with the replenishment of OM, leading to compacted soils, poor root development, etc. Mulch, mulch, mulch.

  36. greengenes 03/06/2014

    Well one last look for tonight, Nina. You and your husband sure have done a wonderful creation! I think the Russian sage that I once grew was planted in too wet of soil. Sure like the color of it. That's so great to get rock from around there. We have to buy ours. They wont let us go up in the mountains to pick up rocks, anymore. Too many people and contractors were doing it. We did get enough to make a double flu chimney in our house, though. But all in all so nice to see your labor of love! I cant wait to see tomarrows pics! Goodnight!

  37. celiahoneysuckle 03/13/2014

    Yes I know all about landscaping cloth. I've blunt a few garden tools, contending with that stuff,working in other peoples gardens.

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