A Woodland Garden Paradise in Michigan
If hiking a stretch of the Appalachian Trail is on your adventure bucket list, David Baker's garden offers a taste of the terrain—in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A mountain stream inspired David's front yard, a sloping woodland expanse, where water and blooms cascade gracefully, like the belle of the ball descending a grand staircase. Waterfalls feed a brook that plays hide-and-seek with meandering stone paths. Three pumps circulate the water, mostly roof runoff routed to the stream via buried drains. It's a scene from The Last of the Mohicans, or maybe a Thomas Cole painting. Though the garden clones a bit of Appalachia, its DNA is all Midwestern. David bought a pickup just to haul plants from nurseries in Lake County, Ohio, and he axed all the non-native trees, wanting to lay avian lead vocals over the backing track of rushing water. "I love birds," David says, "and native oaks provide forage and habitat for migrating songbirds here."
Boulder Dash Homeowner David Baker envisioned rocks the size of a baby's head. Landscape artist Jarrod Hendrickson said sure—but went more baby elephant.
Brook Shelf As water flows down David's front yard slope, it ducks under stone walking paths, creating crossings with close-up views like the one above.
How to Go with the Flow
Learn from David Baker's ambitious stream garden to create a mini version for less.
Imitate Nature Visit wild creeks and streams near your home (or on your travels) to observe how the rocks and plants interact. Take pictures of interesting plants and go online or to a nursery to ID ones you might use.
Mix the Rocks Most streambeds contain a mix of gravel, small river rocks, medium chunky rocks and large boulders. Choose a variety of stone sizes to make your stream look natural.
Trust the Terrain Water tends to choose its own course, so don't fight it. If your yard is sloped, direct water downhill. Avoid sending it in a straight line, which speeds the flow and can cause erosion. Slow the water down by creating curves, pools and meandering routes. Above, rosy hydrangeas look to be leaning in for a sip. Their Greek name means "water vessel," a nod to their thirsty nature and cuplike flowers.
Spill the Greens Let plants, like the golden lilies shown here, spill into the water, and include some water plants too. (Think floating leaves.) This will help connect the streambed with the rest of your garden.
Catch Raindrops Consider adding a rain garden, a cluster of plantings that absorbs rainwater runoff from your roof and gutters, lawn, patio, or driveway. Place it at a low spot in your yard, ideally at least 10 feet from your house and other structures.