Dry river beds are beautiful landscape features which can add character and charm to gardens of all sizes. In addition to their alluring, rural aesthetic, dry river beds are also extremely low maintenance.

When it comes to creating your own dry river bed, the possibilities really are endless. From functional to solely ornamental, the great thing about dry river beds is that they can be completely tailored to suit their environment, and the taste of their owner. Consider what you want from your dry river bed: Do you want something beautiful to awe at from your garden lounger, something unique and quirky or, simply something practical? Once you’ve decided it’s then time to explore material options. Aggregates are a necessity for creating an authentic dry river bed look. However, if a natural feel is not what you’re after then you may want to experiment with other materials such as crushed glass or wood.

River bed placement and size

Alongside material choice one of the first things you will need to consider is how large your river bed will be and where it is going to go. For small gardens, ornamental river beds are the most viable option. In contrast, if you have a larger space to play with you may want to allow your river bed to function as a walk way, as well as a decorative piece. It’s also important to consider whether or not you would like your river bed to be level with the ground or sunken. Of course, if you choose the latter some excavation work will be required.

Functional river beds

If you choose the correct materials, it’s easy to create a marvellous decorative piece that doubles as a practical path. If you want your river bed to be stable under foot, the key is to choose smaller aggregates; the smaller the aggregate the easier to walk on. However, if you’re aiming to achieve an authentic look you will still need to incorporate aggregates of various sizes in your overall design. To do this, keep small aggregates to the centre of the river bed and place larger aggregates towards the outer edge.


Before you lay any aggregates you will want to lay down a ground sheet. Some may welcome wild plants and weeds in their river bed, as they can add to its natural style. However, if you don’t want weeds poking through your gravel, make sure you use a weed control membrane.

Aggregate placement

Choose rocks and boulders in an assortment of sizes to line the perimeter of the river bed. Doing this will help to establish the shape of your river bed and keep smaller aggregates contained. Keep the placement of the outer rocks asymmetric and avoid straight lines. Remember, you want to create a natural meander just as you would find in a natural river bed. This means incorporating curves and contours. To get the natural look just right, it’s also important to play with height, natural river beds are not flat, so remember to incorporate decorative rocks and boulders in an assortment of heights along the perimeter.

For the centre of the river bed choose aggregates in a size of 20mm or less. Whether you choose washed or unwashed aggregates is totally up to you. Washed aggregates are generally more suited to decorative features as they are pre rinsed of natural matter such as earth or silt. Unwashed aggregates are usually lower in price so may be more economical if you are planning to cover a large area.

Final Tip: to keep your river bed interesting, add touches of plant life along the outer edge. Adding ornamental grass and plants between rocks will give your river bed dimension and colour.

Decorative river beds

When creating a purely decorative river bed you have much more freedom to experiment with various materials and shapes. There are endless possibilities when it comes to creating a decorative river bed, take a look at some of our favourite ideas below.

Bridge the gap

Bridge the gap between functional and decorative by incorporating a bridge into your river bed design. If you have chosen to excavate a sunken river bed you may want to lay a flat walkway across the top of your design. Alternatively, you could choose a curved bridge to arch over your river bed to give it a fun yet equally functional appeal.

Let there be light

Create the perfect mood using well placed lighting in your river bed design. If you want your river bed to be a prominent feature even after dark line the perimeter with decorative, solar powered torches for a subtle, yet effective look. Another effective technique is to incorporate low level lighting in inconspicuous spots between rocks, lighting them up as if by magic! If you want a look that is even more unique, play around with coloured lighting.

Crush it

An interesting alternative to traditional stone and gravel aggregates, crushed glass adds colourful character to exterior landscapes. Whilst the look of a crushed glass river bed is far from natural, it still offers a somewhat organic appeal that won’t look out of place amongst plant life and other sorts of aggregates. Crushed glass comes in a variety of colours from subtle blue to vibrant red. Blue is the preferred choice of many as it evokes feelings of tranquillity as it is the natural colour of rivers and streams.

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