You may need off-street parking perhaps; 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. On balance, gravel can be one of the more hospitable options. The advantages it offers are that it can be planted, it provides a perfect environment for drought-tolerant planting, it’s low-maintenance and relatively cheap.

In your garden

Planning

  • A sunny position is best for drought-tolerant plants.
  • Mark out the shape of the area you want to gravel including areas for planting, giving the plants room to spread about. An informal, fluid shape is most suitable for this style.
  • Incorporating a gravel pool into the garden is a brilliant way of maximising the wildlife appeal of your garden and will prove popular almost straight away.
  • A gravel garden naturally 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.

Establishing

  • If your soil is not naturally sandy or gravelly it might be necessary to dig the soil to a depth of about 5cm (2in) incorporating plenty of grit or gravel and some well-rotted organic matter. After raking, the area should sit about 5cm (2in) below the surrounding ground to allow for the layer of gravel mulch.
  • 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 5cm (2in) 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 30cm (12in) in the centre with sloping sides. Like a normal pond, this is lined with a butyl liner with the edges buried around the sides in a trench or under large stones. Lay a thin layer of soil over the base and then a 5cm (2in) layer of 0.5-1cm (1/4-1in) gravel or shingle, adding a few larger stones for variety. Then fill with water. Plant around the edges with soggy-soil-loving plants like marsh marigolds and ragged robin.

Maintaining

  • 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.

Top tips

  • 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.
  • Give container plants a good soaking for a few days before planting.

Suggested plants