Fancy a change by moving on from your traditional garden, which takes up so much of your time? Weeding, mowing, fertilising, watering – it’s a never-ending battle to keep on top of all those gardening jobs, right? Well, you can find a great solution to this by creating a low-maintenance gravel garden.
Gravel garden designs come in all sizes and shapes and are relatively easy to make. You may prefer a garden in a Mediterranean style, opt for a Moroccan clean look or decide on a naturally evolving self-seeding garden… But regardless of the design, in all cases, your landscaping efforts will involve a fair bit of preparation.
Laying the gravel the right way, choosing suitable plants and learning how to maintain both are vital aspects of the process, in order to achieve the desired aesthetic result. So, with this post, we’ll help you accomplish the goal of establishing a beautiful and easy-to-maintain gravel garden from scratch.
How to Lay a Gravel Garden Correctly
Below is a universal 5-step process of how to prepare the ground for your new hardscape:
- Clear the space of all vegetation. This includes the regular grass along with all the weeds and plants.
- Remove weeds and carefully take out plants you want to keep and introduce back into your gravel garden.
- Dig over the ground once or twice to enhance the condition of the top layer of soil.
- Rake well to even out the surface and break down any lumps and bumps.
- Feed the soil with granulated fertiliser, compost or manure, as this will be your last chance to boost its fertility.
- Add coarse sand if necessary to improve drainage.
- Dig an outside border (about 4 inches wide and a couple of inches deep) to separate the area from other garden features that you want to keep, whether it’s a grassed patch, a patio, a path, a rockery or a flower bed. A pro level garden design of an irregular shape may involve creating soft edges to accommodate different focal points – an existing water feature, a tree or a shrub. This means that you may need to dig an inside border around a central garden feature or plant.
- Finally, lay a weed membrane over the prepared area and secure it with staples or weights (large stones and rocks). Skip this step if you wish to make a self-seeding gravel garden.
How to Lay Gravel in The Garden
To complete your gravel garden project, purchase a sufficient quantity of gravel. Note that you will need about 40 kg of 20mm gravel to cover one sq.m at a 2-inch depth. To measure the area of a funny-shaped garden, multiply the length and width of the imaginary rectangle that surrounds it. If this measure method fails, just use an online gravel calculator.
- Finish the borders – You can add an edge (a metal strip) and bury it into the borders, so it’s just above the ground, to keep the gravel in place. The edge will also improve drainage if the soil is heavy, such as clay. Then, gently cover the border with gravel. Or skip this step and place pavers, boulders or pebbles to construct your borders.
- Spread the gravel – Place any additional semi-permanent focal points (heavy terracotta pots, rocks, a stone bench or a decorative rainwater collector) in the preferred position, first. Then, spread the gravel as evenly as possible over the membrane around those. Pay heed when laying the gravel near the plants and use precision when working next to the borders. Keep any excess gravel mulch aside to fill bald patches when necessary.
- Level the gravel – Rake the gravel to smooth down uneven spots. Again, be extra careful not to damage your fresh-planted shrubs, succulents and perennials. If you feel adventurous you can incorporate different coloured slate chippings into your gravel garden design. This means that you will need to be even more diligent when raking the gravel as to not spoil the desired pattern.
What Plants Are Suitable for a Gravel Garden?
Drought-resistant plants are your best bet when deciding on your gravel garden vegetation variety. Herbaceous perennials, herbs, grasses, shrubs, succulents and some types of bulbs that are tolerant to dry weather, will all thrive, once planted properly.
- Poppies (Papaver)
- Irises (Iris)
- Rock Roses (Cistus)
- Lilies (Lilium)
- Lavender (Lavandula)
- Marjoram (Origanum Majorana)
- Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris)
- Daisies (Bellis Perennis)
- Salvia (Salvia)
- Santolina (Santolina)
- Fountain grasses (Pennisetum Setaceum)
- Feather grass (Nassella Tenuissima)
- Cacti (Cactaceae)
- Yucca (Yucca)
- Aloe (Aloe Vera)
These plants require less watering and will flourish if you live in a region with relatively dry summers and low rainfall.
Gravel garden planting tips
Think about where you want each plant to go and place the pots in position on top of the weed-suppressing membrane. When happy with the floral and foliage display design, cut crosses (not holes) into the sheet. Dig holes and plant your specimens. Add compost to give them a good start. Tuck the membrane edges under the plants and water them well.
Ensure that you space your plants out to provide them with enough room to grow. Smaller sun-loving plants should not be planted near larger varieties so that their shade doesn’t prevent them from thriving.
What type of gravel
It’ll be entirely your choice as to what type of gravel you decide to use to cover your garden. Pea gravel, crushed stones or different coloured slate chippings are all suitable for dressing the membrane around your plants and existing garden features.
Our advice is to avoid using very small gravel, as it can easily escape outside the borders. Also, it may attract neighbouring cats to use as litter. Beware of the sharp edges of crushed stone, as it may pose a hazard to bare-feet children and pets. Very light coloured gravel can become looking greyish and dull with time from accumulated dust and rain won’t wash it, necessarily.
How to Maintain a Gravel Garden With Ease
As mentioned, your gravel garden will require very little to no maintenance, especially once it becomes established. However, there are a few things that you should do now and again to ensure that the gravelled area looks neat and presentable, as well as plant life thrives in optimum conditions, depending on the time of the year.
Hardscaping maintenance tips
You may encounter some issues, which affect the clean and orderly look of your gravel garden. Fallen leaves and blossoms may spoil the visual pleasure of the perfectionist owner. Or weeds may start to sneak through the membrane around plants and near the borders and this way, disturb the uniform texture of your garden hardscape.
You can use a leaf blower, a plastic rake or a stiff brush to clear plant debris. Pull manually unwanted weeds to address the second problem. Also, over time, you may notice patches with scarce gravel that will need topping up.
Keeping gravel garden plants in good shape
The level of care your plants require will largely depend on their variety. Some perennials, such as stonecrops, beeblossom and phlox should be deadheaded in early summer to prolong their season. Herbal plants, like thyme, also require the occasional trimming. Dead stalks can be removed for aesthetic reasons, although, some gardeners see them as a complementing feature during the winter months.
Self-seeding gardens, which are built without a weed membrane, will naturally need more work and regular weeding. So, to avoid pulling accidentally the “young” of your pretty verbenas, mulleins and fennel, leave the protruding seedlings to grow for a bit, so you can discern more easily which are weeds and which – plants. Most probably, you’ll rarely need to water your plants. But it won’t hurt if you feed them occasionally.
So, there, you now know how to approach the design of your beautiful gravel garden in a few easy-to-follow steps. A garden, where you can enjoy spending more time without breaking too much sweat to keep it in tip-top shape. On that note, your low-maintenance gravel garden doesn’t need to stay rigid and unvarying. You can still have a dynamic and flourishing recreational outdoor space by introducing new plant varieties and by illuminating different features with landscape lights and solar lanterns. And why not experiment by adding new fixtures to your garden hardscape, be it a pretty sculpture or a trendy firepit?
Did we manage to make you a gravel garden convert? Or do you have any different gravel garden design ideas and maintenance tips? Then, please, share them in the comment box below!
Posted in Garden Advice
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