I returned to San Diego to find brown lawns and wilted trees. Obviously, my readers in the U.S. southwest do not have a problem with excess rain runoff. What a contrast to Northern Bliss, our summer lake home in Wisconsin, where too much rain became a major challenge in developing the cabin lot we had purchased last fall. During the month of June, we received 9.5 inches of rain!

 Preparing the lot.

Preparing the lot.

I’d always wanted an orchard. So I devised a plan that included a row of evergreens near the lot line for a windbreak (to dampen the effect of cold north winds), winding paths and flower beds, and half a dozen fruit trees—apple, cherry and plum. But after those June rains, I realized that what I had was better suited to developing terraces of rice! Those precious fruit trees would drown in that wet clay.

2 Tree-planting rig, web

Tree Planting rig.

Before I could plant anything, I needed to bring in two semi-loads of fill to bring the lot up to road level, followed by a layer of topsoil. Then I had to devise a drainage system that would somehow divert the excess rain runoff into the lake, keeping it off my neighbor’s yard. I thought of the dry creeks often seen in desert landscapes and experienced an aha moment: how about a creek that winds around spruce trees and into the lake?

With the expert help of Lake Services Unlimited, 5 gorgeous Black Hill spruce trees were delivered, one by one, from Cotter Tree Farm. We arranged them in a zigzag pattern to save space and to make a more pleasing arrangement than all-in-a-row. Next the creek was dug, lined with landscaping fabric, and filled on the bottom and sides with a single layer of medium-size boulders. At first, the creek looked quite artificial. But after we added other sizes of stone, topped it off with pebbles, and mixed up the rocks, it looked natural. The final touch was bringing in seven boulders for the property. The truck dumped them all at the edge of the lot. “Where do you want them?” asked the driver. This is not like rearranging your living room furniture! I knew I had but one chance to get it right. We put one boulder at the head of the creek, another among the trees, a third at the middle bend in the creek, and three for “seating” overlooking the rain garden. The final boulder was left for seating next to the cabin overlooking the lake.

Two trees planted; plywood planks prevent rig from sinking, web

Two trees planted; plywood planks prevents rig from sinking.

4 Five trees planted and dry creek prepared, web

Five trees planted and dry creek prepared.

5 Placement of second boulder

Placement of second boulder.

6 Dry creek landscape from road, web

Dry creek landscape from road.

We planted two groups of Siberian iris in the mulch surrounding the spruce and added lime creeping jenny to spread around a gray boulder. I purchased a few dozen day lily plants—six varieties to bloom from spring to fall—that now span the entire lot at the roadside. Lilies grow like weeds in Wisconsin; fortunately, they resist road salt, wind and extreme temperatures.

We extended an existing lakeside path to circle around the rain garden, dry creek, and orchard.  We added a wrought iron bistro table and two chairs (half-price in September!) A final touch—next year—will be a bridge over the creek so that we can access the spruce on the other side. I’ve learned that some folks with absolutely no landscape drainage problems build dry creeks just because they like the way they look.  How I love turning problems into opportunities!

8.Landscaping completed

Landscaping completed.

9  Bistro in center of orchard, web

Bistro in center of orchard.