5 Ways to Use Gravel in Your Landscape and Garden

Gravel is right up there with boxwood and pumpkins in my hierarchy of things I love in the garden. And the longer I garden the MORE I love it and appreciate its many contributions to the landscape. Here are five ways I use this indispensable material in my own garden setting.

1.  As garden flooring. When I first moved in to my 1935 home, I did what so many of us do......I added on a redwood deck off the kitchen area. Over time, the deck aged and started to look bedraggled. In the summer, distressed trees would drop their leaves, which would then get trapped in between the planks and drive me crazy. It would get very hot and splinter-y as the summer progressed. So I had it torn out and replaced with a combination of flagstone and gravel...in colors which complemented my home's exterior...and a set of flagstone steps, large and sweeping that lead from the house down to this patio area.

In some areas, the brick 'trench' edging surrounding my turf and defining the border is also contained in areas of gravel, as well as the stepping stones leading into the potager. Quite appreciated, I might add, when the weather is wet and the ground saturated and soggy.

2. As mulch for potted specimens. I love the finished look that a layer of pea gravel or crushed stone provides on the surface of container plantings. It is especially effective and appropriate for anything Mediterranean or arid in nature.

I especially like the way it deters digging squirrels and sow bugs while simultaneously holding in moisture and creating a dry barrier between leaf and soil...especially important when humidity is high, and the plant itself wants excellent drainage and dryer conditions.

Isn't it handsome; I mean, really?!

3.  As added weight when additional weight is desired. The large, good-looking, (and, I think, expensive-looking as well) urn pictured below was an $11 plastic pot I bought on sale at Lowe's and gave a faux stone finish. (More on that in another post.) It is remarkably light. Great for portability, not so great for standing up to our strong OK winds. The solution? A modicum of gravel of course. Not enough to make it prohibitively heavy, but enough heft to keep it upright in gusty winds.

See the three tier topiary hiding behind the other pots below?  It is a faux urn as well. Call in the gravel!

Gravel as a mulch for plants in the ground is a good choice for fuzzy-leaved growers like lamb's ear and sages that don't like their foliage wet.

Rosemary and yucca below appreciate a little gravel mulch in their surroundings as well.

4.  As a soil amendment for bulbs, perennials, and annuals that demand excellent drainage. Gravel or gravel + sand are rapidly becoming my favorite soil amendments. For heavy clay like mine, they are the ticket. it won't break down over time like organic amendments and helps keep vulnerable roots  from rotting because of too much rain or heavy-handed watering. (Like my dahlias, alliums and lilies...)

Isn't this allium bud amazing?


5.  As an excellent medium for seed germination. If you have a flower you are coveting, but have been unsuccessful at germinating or growing it from seed, try sowing it into the coarse crevices and openings of a gravel area. I have had great success doing this with fine seed, in particular. Foxglove, lady's mantle, columbine and mullion come to mind. Even if their gravely home is temporary, you can transplant them when they get large enough into their permanent spot. In their infancy, however, they appreciate the warm and cozy protected nature of a gravel environment.

Finally, on a proud note, the June issue of  SOUTHERN LIVING (subscribe here) ,with a 4 page story on my back gardens, is available now. The photography is brilliant, and I hope you will find a few tidbits of garden design advice in my story that you can apply to your own garden spaces.

For other ideas about the use of gravel as a surface and feature in your garden, and lots of other obsessions of mine, follow me on PINTEREST here.

A cozy way to pass some time on these cloudy, rainy days.

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