Gravel is an inexpensive and flexible alternative to paving or a lawn, although it is not suitable for a patio. It blends beautifully with plants, needs little maintenance, and can be used in both formal and informal designs. It is also a useful ‘filler’ material to use among other hard surfaces, or in irregularly shaped areas where paving will not easily fit and a lawn would be difficult to mow.
Types of gravel
Gravel comes in many different shapes, sizes and colors. Some types are angular, others rounded, some are white, and others assorted shades of green or red. All of them will look different in sun or shade, when wet or dry. The subtle change of color and mood is one of the appeals of gravel. The gravels available will depend on where you live, and which ones can be transported economically from further afield. Shop around first by going to garden centers and builders merchants to see what is available in your area before making your choice.
Many garden centers and stone merchants sell, or can obtain a wide range of gravels in different sizes and colors. You will find the appearance changes according to the light and whether the stones are wet or dry. Gravel gardens can be a formal or informal shape, but an edging of some kind is required otherwise the gravel will become scattered into surrounding garden beds.
Gravel is often used for drives, but it is also a good choice for informal paths within the garden. It conforms to any shape so is useful for paths that meander. However, it is not a good choice for paths where you will have to wheel the mower. Fine gravel is an ideal ground covering for a Japanese-style garden design.
- Excavate the area to a depth of about10 cm (4 in), with a slight slope to avoid water logging after heavy rain. If the gravel garden is low lying or in a hollow, provide a sump for excess water to drain into.
- Make sure the surface is reasonably smooth, then lay thick plastic sheeting over the area (to suppress weed growth).Overlap the joints.
- Tip the gravel over the plastic sheet, and rake it level. It can be difficult to judge how deeply or evenly the gravel is being spread once the plastic sheet has been covered, so if necessary carefully scrape back the gravel occasionally to check progress.
- If you want to plant through the gravel, scoop back the gravel to expose the plastic sheer. Then make cross-slits through the plastic with a knife.
- Make the planting hole with a trowel, enrich the soil with garden compost and fertilizer and plant normally. Fold back the sheet, and replace the gravel without covering the crown if it’s a small plant.