Categories
Planning

How to Make a Gravel Garden

A gravel garden can be a creative and easy way to landscape a large or small area, requires little maintenance and is inexpensive. It’s easy to blend a gravel garden nicely with plants and can be made into a formal or informal design, depending on your personal tastes. It is also a nice alternative for irregular space that would be hard to mow or maintain otherwise. Here are some simple steps to follow for installing your gravel garden.

Step 1 – Measure & Plan the Garden

Measure out the space that you plan to build your garden. Use your tape measure to measure the out perimeter of your garden. Plot the garden out on a piece of graphing paper, using one square for each foot of space. Draw the perimeter of the garden and note any objects that will be remaining. Also, think about any other elements you would like to add to the garden. Plants, fountains, benches or any other decorative items should be marked on the plan as to where they will be positioned. Use gardening magazines for inspiration.

Step 2 – Select the Gravel

Visit your local home improvement or gardening store and view the many different types of gravel available. There are typically many options to choose from in varying shapes, sizes and colors. Depending on where you are located and what gravels can be transported economically, you will have different selections to choose from. Select one or more that will fit with the décor of your house and yard. It often looks nice to select contrasting colors of gravel for different areas using different shapes and textures. Determining the other elements you will place in your garden before you select the gravel is a good idea to find a gravel that really complements your décor. Be sure to ask to see the gravel wet, as many gravels look differently in sun or shade, or wet or dry. This slight change of color may be a deciding factor in your selection.

Step 3 – Clear the Garden Area

Following your map, clear the area to the required depth, generally about 2 inches deep. This will vary depending on your soil in your yard and the type of rocks that you have selected for your garden.

Step 4 – Cover the Area

Level the ground and place a mulching sheet or heavy duty black polythene over the area, overlapping the strips by about 2 inches. If you have any trees, bushes or plants in the garden that are remaining, lay the mulching sheet around the plants close to their base.

Step 5– Lay the Gravel

Spread the gravel evenly on the sheet of plastic and rake it level.

Step 6 – Install Plants

Make slits in the polythene and spread the gravel away from the slit. Enrich the soil beneath with organic matter and fill the hole in with the plant. Redistribute the gravel evenly over the plastic.

Now you can sit back and enjoy your virtually maintenance free gravel garden.

In the first of a new design series, the award-wining designer Andy Sturgeon, looks at a style of planting that can adapt to many situations. Words Andy Sturgeon

March 23, 2020 at 2:28 pm

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Pinterest
  • Email to a friend

I find that certain styles of planting have been somewhat hogging the limelight. Prairie planting anyone? Meadows perhaps? Now this is all well and good, and of course they have their place but they lack versatility – and, in the depths of winter, there’s basically nothing there.

You may also like

How to Make a Gravel Garden

Gravel gardening may not immediately grab the headlines but should in fact be far more popular and better recognised. A gravel garden works on all scales, large and small and its relatively easy to look after – perhaps about half the time of a conventional mixed border. I’ve used gravel gardens equally successfully in minuscule London gardens as well as country estates where vast walled gardens need a large, planted space without the expense of an army of gardeners.

I first came to gravel garden planting through Joyce Robinson’s Denmans – the garden made famous by the late designer John Brookes, which had dry river beds and gravel paths creating space and light within the garden and among the plants themselves. Then Derek Jarman’s gravel Prospect Cottage garden on the beach at Dungeness came into our consciousness before Beth Chatto tore up her car park to make a gravel garden that had people finally taking notice.

How to Make a Gravel Garden

The element that links these gravel gardens and plantings together is that they have a gentle sense of ‘somewhere else’. An invented habitat of never normally seen together exotics that can’t co-exist happily within the environment of a conventional mixed border, yet the gravel garden planting mix can be skewed to suit whatever you want: Mexican agaves and Dasylirion can be deployed in a more contemporary setting or for Mediterranean purists, lavender, rosemary and olives. But there really aren’t many rules for gravel gardens especially on larger scales. A scattering of evergreens can make a loose structure so that you have a genuinely year-round garden and then almost anything goes. Rigid colour schemes are not necessarily required for gravel gardens and a contrasting flower colour and leaf shape from one plant to the next can be the recipe for a successful gravel garden. A range of heights is good too. Individual shrubs or small trees emerging from their ground-hugging neighbours and spires of Verbascum erupting from the gravel make for eye-catching punctuation.

Creating a gravel garden

  1. Wherever possible a local gravel should always be used to visually tie the garden into its setting and to any vernacular materials nearby. It will also have a lower carbon footprint.
  2. The gravel mulch for your gravel garden should be around 5-7cm deep and spread over all beds so there is no longer any bare soil, and under no circumstances put down any sort of membrane beneath the gravel.
  3. There is nothing worse than seeing the edges of some awful material poking up through the gravel in your garden. You want the worms to pull the gravel stones down into the soil to improve drainage further and prevent excessive run-off into drains during heavy downpours.
  4. The same loose gravel can make an ideal path surface as long as the stone sizes aren’t too big, preferably 10mm diameter and definitely no bigger than 20mm or it will be like walking on a shingle beach.
  5. If you want a more solid surface you could upgrade to a self-binding gravel on the paths that sets hard and has just a few loose stones on the surface but you need to choose a gravel of exactly the same tone. Increasingly winter wet kills more plants than the cold does so drainage is key and a gravel garden solves the problem. Get it right and you can embrace climate change and grow all sort of exotics hailing from Mediterranean climates around the world, including Australia, America and North Africa.

Key tips and examples for creating a gravel garden

Foliage first

Adding silver-leaved plants to the gravel garden mix automatically makes us think of hotter climes and exotic places. In my 2010 Chelsea garden, I initially selected each plant for the leaf shape, colour and texture and although the flowers were important they were less crucial.

Site specific

How to Make a Gravel Garden

Emily Erlam’s creation at Dungeness takes a more gardenesque approach than the neighbouring Prospect Cottage and has exotic Mediterranean species colonising the sun-baked shingle of the beach. The planting helps anchor the modern building to its setting.

Changing face

Gravel gardens provide plenty of opportunity for flower colour, and the colour scheme can change a number of times throughout the seasons. It can be simple and controlled at times or erupt into a multitude of colours.

Simply Modern

With a contemporary Japanese feel, this gravel garden by Matt Keightley is a masterclass in form and space. Simplicity is key with a paired-back palette of predominantly Pinus sylvestris ‘Watereri’, whose mounded shapes give the garden a sculptural quality.

Dry Mix

How to Make a Gravel Garden

Olivier Filippi who has a nursery in the South of France has emerged as a big name in dry gardens. He favours foliage over flowers and chooses plants adapted to poor, dry soils where they produce the naturally mounded shapes found in the wild.

Anything goes

The Beth Chatto tribute garden at last year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival mixed lavender with junipers, alliums, festucas, foxtail lilies and Eryngium agavifolium, proving that this style of planting can be informal and forgiving. Almost anything could go into the mix, regardless of size or colour. Turn the page for more ideas on gravel gardens

How to Make a Gravel Garden

There are many useful mulches to use on the garden bed. Some help retain moisture, as does the gravel garden bed. Gravel beds are something you won’t see in every garden, but they can provide something different in your landscape. Read more to see if laying a gravel garden is an option for you.

Gravel Bed Garden Design

Your gravel bed can be any shape and as large or small as you need. The secret to beautiful plants growing in the gravel bed is plant choice and soil preparation. Drought resistant plants are perfect for this type of bed. Once the gravel top cover is in place, you likely won’t disturb it.

Use a border. This helps define the area and keeps the gravel in place. Bury a metal garden strip around the edges, leaving half an inch above ground to hold the rock. Or use a wider border made with garden pavers.

How to Install a Gravel Garden

Pick the spot for your gravel garden bed. Remove all grass, weeds, and existing plants. Till the soil well, at least five to six inches (13-15 cm.) deep. Mix in well-finished compost. If soil is clay or drainage is poor, compost will help improve it. You may also add coarse sand for a grittier mix and to help with drainage. Once the gravel mulch is in place, it’s difficult to enrich your soil. You can sprinkle dry fertilizer or use a liquid mix, but it is prudent to keep most plants growing in rich soil.

Level the soil with a rake. Add the border when soil is finished. As mentioned above, you can install a metal garden strip or use pavers for the border. This keeps the covering in place.

Choose plants appropriate to your garden spot and your area. Ornamental grasses, herbaceous perennials, and even trees or shrubs may be suitable. Install plants into the soil.

Add any hardscape features such as benches, water features, clay pots, or tin planters. Large boulders complement the gravel garden construction. Upcycle items for planters, keeping in mind that less is often more.

Choose medium size gravel to cover the bed. You may include patterns by using colored slate chippings. Add a pathway, if desired, using larger stones or pavers.

Use a hand spade to carefully spread gravel around your new plantings. Use a rake for other parts of the larger bed, leveling the rock throughout. Save some of the gravel for later in case it is needed to fill in as the new bed settles.

There’s a certain appeal to gravel paths and patios. They somehow manage to at once be both casual and formally elegant. A gravel path says “let’s go somewhere, and you don’t need a tie to get there.” The thing is, a gravel path can be downright awful if not installed properly. Gravel can spill out and mix with adjacent grass and mulch. Weeds can overrun the gravel. Most importantly, a gravel path can be darn difficult to walk on if not constructed properly. If you’ve dismissed the idea of a gravel path because the last one you were on, it was like walking through the dunes at the beach – that was one bad apple. Here’s how to build a gravel path the right way.

How to Make a Gravel Garden

Step One – Excavation

You can’t just dump a few wheelbarrows of gravel on the ground and call it a day. When we do a gravel path for a client project we dig down 4-6 inches. That lets us eliminate the sod and/or plant matter in the top few inches, and it allows us to create a cleanly defined shape for the path.

Step Two – The Prep

Once the path is excavated out, we run a plate compactor over the soil to give us a solid sub-base. We then cover the bottom with a woven geotextile fabric to keep the soil and the base layer separate – just like you would when starting a paver walk. For the sides, we usually recommend some sort of edging to keep the gravel separated from adjacent lawn areas or plant beds. Granite cobblestones are gorgeous but pricy; powdercoated aluminum edging is attractive yet unobtrusive and reasonably priced. I don’t love the plastic edging sold at the box stores as it never seems to hold up well and it does a lousy job of holding a true radius curve.

Step Three – The Base Layer

Do you know why a poorly installed pea gravel path (or patio, or driveway) feels like you’re slogging through beach sand? It’s because a lot of people have zero clue how to build a gravel path. Pea gravel is rounded and doesn’t interlock, so you really are moving the full depth of the path with every step. Even if we’re using an angular stone like ⅜” chip gravel (#8 stone) I still like to use a solid base.

How to Make a Gravel Garden

For this base layer we use 21A (aka ¾” minus, aka ABC stone, aka crusher run). We spread it evenly, then run a plate compactor over it. This process is repeated until we’re within an inch to an inch and a half of the desired path height. The goal is to have a compacted, rock solid base you could run a car over.

Step Four – The Pretty Stuff

We finish off the pathway with our decorative stone of choice. That can be pea gravel, #8 stone, or whatever works for the look you’re trying to achieve. If we’re using an angular stone like ⅜” chip gravel (#8) and it’s going to be a high traffic area, we’ll run the compactor over it a few times. We don’t use the compactor with pea gravel because a rounded stone won’t compact or interlock. May as well try teaching the dog ballet for all the good it’ll do.

How to Make a Gravel Garden

And that’s it! Yes, doing all this does make the process take longer, but you now have a rock solid gravel path that is easy to walk on and way less likely to have any sort of weed issues. Trust me, it’s totally worth it – now you know exactly how to build a gravel path. To see more of this project, check out the Culpeper Winery Landscape Design page!

Sharing is caring!

How to Make a Gravel Garden

Confession: I’m a huge fan of period British novels and movies. Think Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. What all of these novels/films have in common, other than drama and dry wit, are lovely landscaped grounds. And this usually involves lots and lots of pea gravel paths, since concrete wasn’t around in the 1800’s. Several years ago when we transitioned from a traditional row garden to raised beds, I knew I wanted quaint pea gravel garden paths between our boxes. And what better way to do DIY gravel paths than on a quick Saturday morning? Let me show you how!

How to Make a Gravel Garden

Why Gravel for Garden Paths?

Other common garden path options are pavers, wooden boards, bricks, or simply well-maintained grass like Fescue (doesn’t spread). We chose gravel because I love the look, but also for practical reasons:

  1. Easy to Maintain– Unlike other path choices, DIY gravel paths are easy to maintain. If weeds start popping through, grab some boiling water and put them to rest (see more about that here). If the gravel level gets low (mainly because the kids love to play with it), you can simply buy another bag to fill in the low spots. Also, unlike leaving the paths grassy, we don’t have to take a weed eater to the paths and make a mess of grass clippings.
  2. Easy to Install– Unlike pavers, bricks, or boards, there wasn’t any need to clear out the grass, level the ground, and then install. We worked with the natural grade of the ground and left the grass where it was.
  3. Low Budget– The cost of pavers and other hard surface materials adds up quickly, but pea gravel and sand is relatively inexpensive. (This clearly depends on how many paths you’re creating.) You’ll also save your back by not having to lug and place pavers. You’re welcome.
  4. Fun for Little Gardeners– The littlest gardener loves to make gravel hills and mountains while I work in the garden. Though we’ve had discussions about not putting rocks in the Earth Box watering tube, overall, the gravel is fun, sensory play.

Perfect for Raised Beds

Unlike the British gardens where my gravel path idea came from, my paths did not include a gardner to maintain or create them. Boo. However, through trial and error, the hubs and I found that these paths don’t have to be difficult. In fact, since we were creating our paths between raised beds, we used the raised bed edges to line the walkways and keep the gravel contained. It’s the perfect walkway solution for raised bed gardeners!

Supplies for DIY Gravel Garden Paths

Supplies:

Paver Sand (Amount depends on size of paths)

Pea Gravel (Amount depends on size of paths)

  1. Choose your path area. We had added a long raised bed at the end of our kitchen garden, so we wanted to create a path between the old and new beds.

How to Make a Gravel Garden

2. Line the path with newspaper 3-4 sheets thick. This is your first line of defense against weeds and grasses poking through. And look, you’re recycling newspaper. Win!How to Make a Gravel Garden

3. Once newspaper is down, spread paver sand on top. We chose paver sand because it’s used to keep pavers in place, and is highly durable out in the elements, i.e. rain. Use the back of a bow rake to smooth the sand into an even layer about an inch thick. You should not be able to see any of the newspaper poking through. How to Make a Gravel Garden

4. Once paver sand is smooth and even, begin applying pea gravel to your DIY gravel paths. (If you want to use stepping stones, add them before the pea gravel.) We purchased ours in bags from Lowes, but if your paths are larger, call around and see about buying it in bulk and having it delivered. If buying in bags, figure out how many bags you’ll need and then buy 3 more. It never seems to go as far as you think. Again, use your bow rake to spread out the gravel evenly. Push it into corners, and don’t skimp. You want a nice thick layer, so when you’re walking on the path you don’t step through to the sand.

How to Make a Gravel Garden

5. Step back and enjoy! We added some stepping stones the kids had made and some other steppers we had laying around. The kids like jumping from one to the next, and I had grand plans of painting them fun colors, but life… How to Make a Gravel Garden

This is a super easy and fun project that can be completed in a day. Comment below and let me know what you’ve used in your garden paths! Until then, Happy Gardening!

How to Make a Gravel Garden

  • All year round
  • Pollinator
  • Plant
  • Bird

Surfaced spaces have all kinds of uses. You may need off-street parking, or a low-maintenance alternative to a lawn; a path running between flower beds, or just somewhere to sit and enjoy the garden. There are many surfaces to choose from – paving slabs, poured concrete, granite sets, bricks, decking, turf … But, on balance, gravel can be one of the more hospitable options when it comes to wildlife. Not only is it low-maintenance and relatively cheap for you, but it provides the perfect environment for drought-tolerant planting, attracting wildlife when other parts of the garden may not.

Planning your gravel garden:

  • Find a sunny position for your gravel garden as this is best for drought-tolerant plants.
  • Decide on the shape of the area you want to gravel and mark it out, including areas for planting. Make sure that you give the plants room to spread about. An informal, fluid shape is most suitable for this style.
  • Consider incorporating a gravel pool into your garden to maximise its wildlife appeal.
  • Research your planting. A gravel garden naturally lends itself to Mediterranean-style, drought-tolerant planting, so lavender, Euphorbia, rock rose, cotton lavender and Phlomis are ideal and provide plenty of nectar for visiting insects.

Gravel provides the perfect environment for drought-tolerant planting, attracting wildlife when other parts of the garden may not

Establishing your gravel garden:

  • Rake the area to gravel. It should sit about 5 cm (2 in) below the surrounding ground to allow for the layer of gravel mulch.
  • If your soil is not naturally sandy or gravelly, it might be necessary to dig to a depth of about 5 cm (2 in), incorporating plenty of grit or gravel and some well-rotted organic matter.
  • Plant up the bed with suitable drought-tolerant planting. Laying a weed-suppressing membrane at this stage helps prevent weeds, but also makes it more difficult for your chosen plants to self-seed, so you might choose not to – the wildlife will be happier too.
  • Once planted, the bed can be mulched with 5 cm (2 in) gravel or shingle. Try to match the colour to other paved or stone structures in the garden.
  • A gravel pool is easily built by digging out a shallow hole to an approximate depth of 30 cm (12 in) in the centre with sloping sides. Like a normal pond, this is lined with a butyl liner and the edges are buried around the sides in a trench or under large stones. Lay a thin layer of soil over the base and then a 5 cm (2 in) layer of 0.5-1 cm (1/4 -1 in) gravel or shingle, adding a few larger stones for variety. Fill with water. Plant around the edges with soggy-soil-loving plants like marsh marigold and ragged-robin.

Maintaining your gravel garden:

  • Keep the plants well-watered for their first season.
  • Top-up the gravel when necessary.
  • You may need to weed out the more invasive intruders for the first few years until the plants fill out and start spreading around.
  • Keep the gravel pool topped up, especially in hot weather as the water is likely to evaporate fairly quickly.

How to Make a Gravel Garden

Red valerian – ©northeastwildlife.co.uk

Suggested plants

  • American harebell – Campanula carpatica
  • Bugle – Ajuga reptans
  • Cotton Lavender – Santolinachamaecyparissus
  • Dyer’s Chamomile (Golden Marguerite) – Anthemis tinctoria
  • English Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia
  • Euphorbia spp.
  • Fleabane – Erigeron spp.
  • Foxglove – Digitalis purpurea
  • Phlomis spp
  • Primrose – Primula vulgaris
  • Red Valerian – Centranthus ruber
  • Rock Rose (Sun Rose) – Cistus spp.

Struggling for space?

If you can’t commit to a whole area of gravel garden, you can make mini gravel gardens by lifting a patio slab or two and treating the gaps in the same way as outlined above. This provides more planting opportunities and even happier wildlife.

More ways you can help wildlife

How to Make a Gravel Garden

How to go peat free in your garden

Our gardens have an important role in the fight against climate change. Help preserve vital peatland by going peat free in your garden…

How to Make a Gravel Garden

How to make a hedge for wildlife

Hedges provide important shelter and protection for wildlife, particularly nesting birds and hibernating insects.

How to Make a Gravel Garden

How to attract moths and bats to your garden

Plant flowers that release their scent in the evening to attract moths and, ultimately, bats looking for an insect-meal into your garden…

How to choose and use this easy, plant-friendly paving for great paths and outdoor rooms

Hard yet soft ― these seemingly contradictory qualities are part of gravel’s appeal.

Durable enough to cover paths, terraces, and driveways, gravel conveys a softer mood than most other types of paving, says Susan Calhoun, garden designer for the Bainbridge Island, Washington. “It feels more organic than pavers or brick,” says Calhoun, who prefers to limit the “harder” materials to entrances and heavily used outdoor areas, choosing gravel everywhere else.

“It’s the perfect transitional material from house to garden.”

Gravel is also versatile, says Los Angeles landscape architect Mia Lehrer. It looks totally natural outside homes in the Italian, French, or English style, yet equally at ease around sprawling ranch houses and contemporary structures.

“It can look casual or crisp, depending on how you use it,” Lehrer says.

Flexibility is what Los Angeles landscape architect Rob Steiner most appreciates about gravel. It conforms to any shape, he says, and it’s easy to change.

Want to add a new flower bed? Just move the gravel aside ― “no jackhammers needed.” Gravel works well in all climates, but for different reasons. In arid regions, it makes a great groundcover for areas of the garden that won’t be planted and irrigated.

And gardeners in the wetter Northwest appreciate gravel’s quick drainage. “It never puddles up, which is why I love it for paths,” Calhoun says.

Affordability is, of course, another benefit, especially if you use local rather than more expensive imported gravel.

“It’s a highly cost-effective way to cover an area,” Steiner says.

Finally, there’s the sensuous quality. Gravel’s earthy texture, its give underfoot, and its crunchy sound are the reasons why this oldest of hardscapes will always be perceived as the softest of paving materials.

3 WAYS WITH GRAVEL

Blur the boundaries

Allow plants to spill onto gravel to visually soften path edges. ‘Tom Thumb’ cotoneaster is a perfect plant for this use; a deciduous groundcover, it sends out a fan of delicate branches with small leaves that turn blood red in fall. In the planting above, cotoneaster combines with yellowish Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra), a self-sown baby gunnera, and a straw-colored Carex ‘Knightshayes’ around a water-filled rock.

Related Articles

  • How to Place 12-Inch Brick Pavers
  • How to Edge Gravel
  • How to Lay Paver Bricks in Sand
  • How to Lay Flagstone in the Dirt With a Weed Barrier
  • How to Kill Fescue Grass in a St. Augustine Lawn

The owners of townhouses and other urban dwellings frequently confront a similar problem: small yards receiving insufficient sunlight to maintain a healthy lawn. One way to address this problem is to replace the unsightly mix of bald, dirt spots and patches of grass with gravel. Using a combination of decorative gravel and a few tastefully placed pieces of decoration, a small yard or the problem area of a larger yard can be turned into an attractive gravel garden area.

Mark the area you intend to convert to gravel by drawing a line on the grass and dirt with spray paint, unless you intend to convert the entire yard to a gravel surface.

Remove all turf from the work area with a shovel, then dig down 2 to 3 inches.

Compact the dirt with a tamper. Inspect the compacted surface for a reasonable degree of levelness; add and compact more dirt as necessary to achieve that reasonable degree of levelness.

Install plastic edging along the rim of the work area, if necessary, to retain the gravel. Dig a 3 to 4 inch trench along the work area’s outer perimeter, place the edging inside and anchor it by driving stakes at 3- to 4-foot intervals. Fill in the trench and compact the dirt with the tamper and by spraying with a garden hose.

Lay a sheet of landscape fabric over the bare ground, to prevent weeds from sprouting up through your gravel. Cut the landscape fabric with scissors to fit your work area, but there is no need to anchor it.

Shovel gravel into the work area, spreading it out with an iron rake until the area is filled and reasonably flat.

Discover more about the iconic Gravel Garden at Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex and find out how to create a gravel garden in your own growing space.

Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden is one of the greatest horticultural successes in history. The space features beautiful, curved beds that are home to a huge variety of vibrant plants. Better still, it never requires any watering. If this sounds like the type of garden you’d like to have, read on for tips on how to create a gravel garden in your own space.

Background to the Gravel Garden

When Beth Chatto and her husband, Andrew, decided to make a garden from scratch on a fruit farm Andrew owned in Essex, they knew a mammoth task lay ahead. It was an unloved patch: boggy in some places, dry elsewhere, difficult.

How to Make a Gravel GardenThe Gravel Garden at Beth Chatto Gardens, Essex

Still, Beth turned adversity into opportunity, thinking not just about what she would like to grow, but also about the best places in which to grow them. Thus emerged several distinct gardens defined by soil type and microclimate and the plants best suited to these conditions. It was the beginning of one of the great gardening tenets of our time: right plant, right place.

Of the many areas Chatto cultivated – the shady woodland area, for example, and the Mediterranean Garden – the final area established was her iconic Gravel Garden. Before the winter of 1991-1992, visitors used the Leylandii-hedged grass area at the garden’s entrance to park their cars.

Chatto cleared the area and redesigned it using hosepipes to create large curving shapes, like a dried-up riverbed with islands of planting. Her vision was a main path meandering through boldly planted areas with no visible hard edges. The plants survive without irrigation and if plants chosen from her drought-tolerant lists died, they were replaced with others that proved better-suited: tough love, indeed!

The Gravel Garden has consequently become one of Chatto’s most famous designs, being both inspirational and influential.

How to Make a Gravel GardenShutterstock

How to create a gravel garden

1. Double dig the ground to a depth of two spits (the length of a spade blade) and dig in a generous amount of organic compost.

2. Then, add a 5cm layer of gravel mulch over the whole surface and rake over it to ensure it is smooth.

3. If you’d like to mimic Chatto’s curved beds, the best way to mark them out is by using a garden hose.

4. Once the area is fit for planting, submerge the plants in water for about five minutes and then plant them. Afterwards, give them another good water before applying a few inches of gravel to the surface.

5. It’s a good idea to include plants with different heights, textures and colours for interest, while maintaining cohegency with accents of the same colours. Plant your foliage first and move onto flowers later. See list below for variety ideas.

6. Once established, don’t be afraid to tug out self-seeded plants before they dominate the whole area. Rigorous deadheading in late spring will extend the season.

Drought-tolerant plants

Most of these plants require well-drained soil and will not survive being waterlogged in winter.

How to Make a Gravel GardenClockwise from bottom: Crocosmia; Agapanthus; Penstemon; Phlomis; Echinops; Verbascum

Plants:

  • Acanthus
  • Agapanthus
  • Allium
  • Artemisia
  • Bearded Iris
  • Centaurea
  • Crocosmia
  • Cynara
  • Dictamnus
  • Echinops
  • Eryngium
  • Euphorbia
  • Gaura
  • Gladiolus papilo
  • Glaucium
  • Lavandula
  • Libertia grandiflora
  • Linum
  • Nepeta
  • Penstemon
  • Phlomis
  • Salvia
  • Sedum
  • Stachys
  • Verbascum

How to Make a Gravel GardenClockwise from bottom: Stipa; Pennisetum; Festuca; Holcus mollis; Festuca

Grasses:

  • Elymus magellanicus
  • Eragrostis curvula
  • Festuca
  • Helictotrichon
  • Holcus mollis
  • Leymus arenarius
  • Melica altissima
  • Pennisetum
  • Stipa

For more detailed information, get yourself a copy of ‘Drought-Resistant Planting: Lessons from Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden’ by Beth Chatto.

Discover more about the iconic Gravel Garden at Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex and find out how to create a gravel garden in your own growing space.

Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden is one of the greatest horticultural successes in history. The space features beautiful, curved beds that are home to a huge variety of vibrant plants. Better still, it never requires any watering. If this sounds like the type of garden you’d like to have, read on for tips on how to create a gravel garden in your own space.

Background to the Gravel Garden

When Beth Chatto and her husband, Andrew, decided to make a garden from scratch on a fruit farm Andrew owned in Essex, they knew a mammoth task lay ahead. It was an unloved patch: boggy in some places, dry elsewhere, difficult.

How to Make a Gravel GardenThe Gravel Garden at Beth Chatto Gardens, Essex

Still, Beth turned adversity into opportunity, thinking not just about what she would like to grow, but also about the best places in which to grow them. Thus emerged several distinct gardens defined by soil type and microclimate and the plants best suited to these conditions. It was the beginning of one of the great gardening tenets of our time: right plant, right place.

Of the many areas Chatto cultivated – the shady woodland area, for example, and the Mediterranean Garden – the final area established was her iconic Gravel Garden. Before the winter of 1991-1992, visitors used the Leylandii-hedged grass area at the garden’s entrance to park their cars.

Chatto cleared the area and redesigned it using hosepipes to create large curving shapes, like a dried-up riverbed with islands of planting. Her vision was a main path meandering through boldly planted areas with no visible hard edges. The plants survive without irrigation and if plants chosen from her drought-tolerant lists died, they were replaced with others that proved better-suited: tough love, indeed!

The Gravel Garden has consequently become one of Chatto’s most famous designs, being both inspirational and influential.

How to Make a Gravel GardenShutterstock

How to create a gravel garden

1. Double dig the ground to a depth of two spits (the length of a spade blade) and dig in a generous amount of organic compost.

2. Then, add a 5cm layer of gravel mulch over the whole surface and rake over it to ensure it is smooth.

3. If you’d like to mimic Chatto’s curved beds, the best way to mark them out is by using a garden hose.

4. Once the area is fit for planting, submerge the plants in water for about five minutes and then plant them. Afterwards, give them another good water before applying a few inches of gravel to the surface.

5. It’s a good idea to include plants with different heights, textures and colours for interest, while maintaining cohegency with accents of the same colours. Plant your foliage first and move onto flowers later. See list below for variety ideas.

6. Once established, don’t be afraid to tug out self-seeded plants before they dominate the whole area. Rigorous deadheading in late spring will extend the season.

Drought-tolerant plants

Most of these plants require well-drained soil and will not survive being waterlogged in winter.

How to Make a Gravel GardenClockwise from bottom: Crocosmia; Agapanthus; Penstemon; Phlomis; Echinops; Verbascum

Plants:

  • Acanthus
  • Agapanthus
  • Allium
  • Artemisia
  • Bearded Iris
  • Centaurea
  • Crocosmia
  • Cynara
  • Dictamnus
  • Echinops
  • Eryngium
  • Euphorbia
  • Gaura
  • Gladiolus papilo
  • Glaucium
  • Lavandula
  • Libertia grandiflora
  • Linum
  • Nepeta
  • Penstemon
  • Phlomis
  • Salvia
  • Sedum
  • Stachys
  • Verbascum

How to Make a Gravel GardenClockwise from bottom: Stipa; Pennisetum; Festuca; Holcus mollis; Festuca

Grasses:

  • Elymus magellanicus
  • Eragrostis curvula
  • Festuca
  • Helictotrichon
  • Holcus mollis
  • Leymus arenarius
  • Melica altissima
  • Pennisetum
  • Stipa

For more detailed information, get yourself a copy of ‘Drought-Resistant Planting: Lessons from Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden’ by Beth Chatto.

Beautiful Gardens offers expert gravel garden design and landscaping services. The benefits of a gravel garden are numerous. Primarily a gravel garden is a low maintenance choice, and can be very cost effective. But this does not mean sacrificing style. Gravel garden designs lend themselves perfectly to creating a Mediterranean oasis in your back garden. Shrubs and flower beds can cleverly border an intricate template of gravel garden paths. Or you can just choose certain places to be gravelled; maybe surrounding a patio or replacing a section of your lawn.

Gravel Garden Design

Any area is suitable for this type of garden, and it is possible to make a gravel garden on any soil type. Sandy and gravelly soil is ideal for Mediterranean plants, and a sunny, well-drained spot is also recommended. For boggy or water-logged areas gravel is a brilliant option. Gravel is often used as a lower cost solution for driveways, especially for very large entrances. Flowering plants like lavender and euphorbias thrive in gravel gardens, providing plenty of pollen and nectar for visiting bees and other insects. Add pots and trellises to a gravel backdrop to shape points of interest and variety. In fact a gravel garden is a fantastic blank canvas to work with. They can be excellent for drainage and bring lighter tones to your garden. Gravel can be bought in a wide range of colours and shades so that you can match with other paved or painted structures. Take a look through our image gallery for gravel garden design ideas. Gravel front gardens are increasingly popular, giving a low maintenance space and a tidy appearance. If you would like advice on how well your gravel garden design ideas would work in your garden, please get in touch on 01543 444 470.

Preparation for a Gravel Garden

The key to all gravel gardens is good ground preparation. We use ‘Plantex’ weed-guard membrane beneath all gravels. This ensures maximum protection against weed growth. Soil is carefully levelled and we take drainage issues into consideration. We can advise on suitable depth of spread and selecting the right gravel mix for your needs. Gravel size varies from fine to chunky, and can be rounded or angular in shape. Once the initial phase of your gravel garden is completed, we are then ready to plant areas and add features in your chosen style. Call us today on 01543 444 470 to arrange a free on-site visit and quote.