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last updated Feb 4, 2014
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Gravel gardens

A gravel garden is a great option for a low maintenance garden. It also lends itself to Mediterranean-style drought-tolerant planting so things like lavender, euphorbias, Cistus, Santolina and Phlomis are ideal and provide plenty of nectar and pollen for visiting insects.

Suitable for... Back to top

Any area is suitable for a gravel garden, although a sunny, well-drained spot is best for most Mediterranean plants.

While it is possible to make a gravel garden on any soil type, a predominantly sandy or gravelly soil naturally lends itself to this type of style.

Making a gravel garden Back to top

  • Gravel garden plants thrive in unimproved sandy soil with relatively low fertility. If your soil is clay based, then incorporation of plenty of organic matter into the soil may help to alter its character a little.
  • If you do not require plants to self-seed, lay landscape fabric over the soil before planting and cut crosses just large enough to insert each rootball.
  • Different-sized gravel is available: fine grades are 10mm or less, chunkier types are 20mm or more. Medium-grade gravels, particularly if angular in shape, are easier to walk on than smaller grades, rounded pea shingle or large cobbles. If cats frequent the garden, larger grades will deter unwanted activities.
  • Avoid using limestone chippings if growing acid-loving plants.
  • A 25kg (55lb) bag of gravel will cover 0.6sq m (0.7sq yd) to a depth of 5cm (2in). Gravel can also be bought in bulk, delivered by truck, usually in bags holding about 1 cubic metre, which should cover around 20sq m (about 24sq yd).
  • Gravel can be bought in a wide range of colours. Try to match the colour with other paved or stone structures in the garden. Local gravels are usually cheapest.
  • Top up gravel levels can as and when required.
  • Weeding is most intensive in the first few years of establishment. After this time, the plants are generally large enough to suppress weeds. Removal of surplus self-seeded ornamentals may be required.
  • Remove spent flower stalks in the autumn or, if left over winter for architectural effect, in early spring.

Suitable plants Back to top

Bulbs

  • Allium
  • Colchicum
  • Crinum x powellii
  • Nerine bowdenii

Shrubs

  • Ceanothus
  • Cistus
  • Cordyline
  • Cytisus
  • Hebe
  • Hypericum
  • Juniperus
  • Lavandula
  • Rosmarinus
  • Salvia
  • Santolina
  • Thymus
  • Yucca

Herbaceous perennials

  • Achillea
  • Bergenia
  • Crambe
  • Crepis incana
  • Echinops
  • Eryngium
  • Euphorbia
  • Iris unguicularis
  • Kniphofia
  • Nepeta
  • Oenothera
  • Osteospermum
  • Papaver
  • Phlomis
  • Sedum
  • Verbascum

Grasses

  • Miscanthus
  • Pennisetum
  • Stipa

Bedding

  • Cosmos
  • Gazania
  • Portulaca

Climbers

  • Campsis
  • Trachelospermum

Problems Back to top

Small plants can become swamped by gravel. Plant them on a low mound so that that they are raised slightly above the level of the gravel.

Where landscape fabric is not used, weeds and self-seeding plants may become problematic, popping up where not wanted. However, allowing self-seeding can give the garden a more natural look even if some weeding is required.

If your soil type is heavy, clay-based, damp, or has a high water table, then gravel garden plants may not thrive. You may be better off going for a different style of garden and selecting planting to suit the conditions.

Quick facts

Gravel gardens are low maintenance
Lots of Mediterranean plants suit gravel gardens
Lay landscape fabric over the soil before putting gravel down to prevent weeds

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