Monday, November 5, 2007

Creating your beautiful gravel garden

A simple design is the key to keeping down the workload in your front yard. Gravel gardens can provide the ideal solution - easy-care plants that grow through mulch matting topped by a 5cm layer of gravel. Not only do the natural color and texture of a gravel garden help to set off plants to their best effect, but the 'fluid' nature of the loose materials used is ideal for covering an area of an irregular shape. And don't stop at just plants in gravel; also consider non-living items with an intriguing character, such as large stones, rocks, empty containers, pieces of slate or driftwood.

Gravel garden care Several materials are available for gravel gardens. The most usual are: water-worn stones - called pea gravel if particles are small; true gravel, which is stone crushed to a gravel size; or more jagged stone chippings, which are available in a wider choice of colors - in tones of grey, yellow and red, and even in white.

A gravel garden will need regular raking, however, to restore an even spread of the material used, and to remove dead leaves and other plant debris collected on the surface. If mulch matting is not used, apply a path weedkiller as a once-a-year treatment to kill weeds and prevent weed seeds from germinating, but use with care because the spray can drift to affect nearby ornamental plants as well. Avoid sweeping down the debris from paved areas onto the gravel because this will only contaminate it and encourage weeds. A gravel garden will also need topping up every few years. Make sure that the new material blends with the existing one.

The best plants provide all-year interest and don't shed lots of leaves or petals. In a sunny site, select a Mediterranean-style planting of grey- or blue-leaved plants that thrive in hot, dry situations. Choose colors that contrast with and complement those of the gravel. For example, a gravel with strong yellows would go well with green or orange, as provided by a red-hot poker or Leonotis leonurus, or with the sky-blue flowers of agapanthus or the purplish-blue of lavender. Grey stone chippings, on the other hand, suit white, vivid green and steely blue plantings, with a dab of crimson red.

A gravel garden in a shady spot will have a completely different ambience. Easy-care plants for such a location could include bergenia, box and ferns with different textures and colors, as well as larger, architectural plants such as Mahonia aquifolium and Begonia coccinea. Allow moss to creep over the gravel to give a natural look.

This low-maintenance gravel courtyard with deep borders is filled with deciduous and evergreen foliage plants chosen for their texture, colour and shape.

Creating impact Focal points are best lined up from main viewing points, such as the front door or a downstairs window. For a corner of a larger area or in a small, city front yard, a tall bamboo, a bushy evergreen, a small tree or an empty decorative container could form a central attraction. For contrast, mulch with pebbles or stones - possibly adding a meandering 'river' of larger pebbles or slate of a contrasting color for extra interest - and plant with pockets of easy-care bulbs, such as Cyrtantluis mackenii and Algerian iris, for an early display.

Gravel is especially suited to seaside gardens, blending with the environment's tough, small-leaved, often grey or olive-green plants. Able to be left untended, it is perfect for holiday homes.

Simple designs can be the most striking in appearance. In this oriental-style garden, clipped box is combined with gravel and paving for an effective yet genuinely low-maintenance finish.

What to include

  • Do repeat groups of the same plant to create a sense of unity throughout the garden.
  • Do choose a few big, bold plants, with a strong shape, to use as focal points or special features - but remember to use them sparingly.
  • Do plant creeping plants near the edge of the gravel garden to create a natural appearance.
  • Don't underlay gravel with stone chippings of a different color or shape, because they will rise to the surface with time and look ugly.


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