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homify’s best ideas for a gravel garden

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
A Modern Garden with Traditional Materials Modern garden by Yorkshire Gardens Modern
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When hearing the word ‘gravel’, most of us tend to imagine driveways. Of course this is correct, yet there are so many other ways in which this varied and versatile material can be used – including spicing up your garden.

Natural and simple, gravel complements garden paving, planting and water quite beautifully, which is why it remains one of the most popular go-to materials for professional gardeners and landscape architects

But of course bringing it into your garden (the correct way) involves a bit more than simply strewing it here and there. Take the homify approach if you want to work with this wonderful material by looking at our most popular gravel garden ideas…

1. What is a gravel garden?

Japanese Style Garden Asian style garden by Unique Landscapes Asian
Unique Landscapes

Japanese Style Garden

Unique Landscapes

Although a gravel garden is characterised by the presence of gravel mulch, it may also include shrubs, flowers, trees, ground covers, larger rocks and variously textured hardscape details. When it comes to gravel garden plants, the best ones to choose are perennials, ornamental grasses and herbs. This will ensure a tranquil Mediterranean-like garden that’s ideal for plants like:

• Lavender 

• Juniper 

• Rosemary

• Thyme 

• Cistus.

There are certain bulbs like alliums and crocus that will break through gravel mulch and naturalise in clusters. Xeriscape / drought-tolerant plants work really well in a gravel garden, and some examples include:

• Yucca 

• Miscanthus 

• Pennisetum. 

2. Can a garden grow atop a gravel surface?

Gravel and water garden area Mediterranean style garden by Jane Harries Garden Designs Mediterranean
Jane Harries Garden Designs

Gravel and water garden area

Jane Harries Garden Designs

Of course it doesn’t sound possible for plants to grow in a gravel garden due to the infertility of stone. That’s why good soil preparation below the gravel surface is vital. We recommend digging the soil to a depth of at least 12cm and incorporating rotted organic material or compost. Ensure proper drainage by adding fine sand (unless your soil is already porous). The soil will require the extra nutrients and good drainage to avoid soggy roots and infertile conditions. 

Adding gravel mulch on top will act as a natural moisture conservator, but remember that sunny weather will cause the stone to heat up and evaporate the water. To maximise your gravel garden’s aesthetic beauty, plant perennials and herbs in batches. The centre (or just off centre) can be used for vertical specimen plants as focal points. And to outline a natural-looking path through your garden, opt for low-growing plants.

3. Know your different gravels

Of course there are many different types of gravel, which makes these gravel garden ideas so much fun! Basically small pieces of stone, gravel forms naturally over time by the action of water on rock, sculpting those lovely rounded pebbles found on beaches and by rivers. This is called pea gravel. 

Gravel can also be man-made, formed from crushed rock. This results in angular and sharp designs and can vary in size from very coarse to fine grains.  

There are major differences between these two types of gravel. While pea gravel has a lot of subtle differences in colour to keep it from looking dull, crushed stone tends to be more monochromatic. In addition, pea gravel is also softer underfoot—a great advantage if you have children and pets in your household. And while crushed stone ‘beds in’ better, pea gravel needs an edge to keep it in place. 

Before you start playing with gravel garden ideas, get some samples to decide which one is right for your outdoor space and lifestyle. While larger pieces ensure more texture, they are less restful one the eye and harder to traverse. Gravel size of about 1cm is ideal. 

4. Gravel garden ideas to let it bloom

Party garden in Sevenoaks, Kent Modern garden by Earth Designs Modern
Earth Designs

Party garden in Sevenoaks, Kent

Earth Designs

Self-seeding plants thrive beautifully in a gravel garden, as they love the free-draining stone. The result is a very natural-looking outdoor space. 

If your gravel has been well laid (meaning it has a firm foundation or sub-base of hardcore, which is then blinded, or covered, by a thin layer of mill waste / finely crushed stone), no weed barrier is necessary, which prevents self-seeders from growing. A well-laid foundation is important to ensure your gravel doesn’t travel! 

If you have a tiny gardening budget, gravel is a lifesaver due to its low costs. Just ensure it’s well laid to provide a firm base and foil for beautiful outdoor patio furniture. 

5. Gravel garden ideas for shady spaces

Front Garden Design Woking, Surrey Modern garden by homify Modern

Front Garden Design Woking, Surrey


We all know that a shady garden can result in paving becoming green and mossy – a bonus for some, a problem for others (particularly those who wish to flaunt a clean, subtle and chic garden design). 

Here is where pea gravel can work wonders, thanks to its free-draining nature and constant movement. And it’s also easily refreshed with a rake or topped up for that extra look of crispness. 

6. Gravel garden ideas for a Mediterranean design

While crushed gravel with coarse particles tend to look very harsh, the finer grades (especially those with a warm, buff colour and soft texture) bed down nicely to flaunt an almost beach-like appearance. The perfect option if you’re looking to create a soothing, Mediterranean garden. 

Finely crushed gravel is firm underfoot, but permeable. This makes it a good option for pathways and informal seating areas. It also complements sandstone and terracotta surfaces – both materials that we usually find in Mediterranean designs. 

7. Gravel garden ideas for a Japanese design

A view across the garden to the "tea house" inspired seating area Asian style garden by Lush Garden Design Asian
Lush Garden Design

A view across the garden to the tea house inspired seating area

Lush Garden Design

Looking to create a Zen-like Asian outdoor space? Guess what: gravel can help!

In Japanese garden designs, rivers and water bodies are often represented by gravel. Larger rocks symbolise islands. And if your garden suffers from poor drainage, it could be added by incorporating a swale or water garden. 

8. Gravel garden ideas for working around trees

A Modern Garden with Traditional Materials Modern garden by Yorkshire Gardens Modern
Yorkshire Gardens

A Modern Garden with Traditional Materials

Yorkshire Gardens

You don’t want to pave right up to trees, as that could cause long-term problems for both the tree and paving. Here is, again, where gravel saves the day with its free-draining, flexible qualities accommodating existing mature trees. 

Gravel allows water and air to reach the roots, both of which are crucial for a tree’s long-term health. And obviously you have options in terms of gravel design and colour, meaning regardless of which style your garden is (Asian, modern, rustic, natural-looking… ), you are bound to find the perfect gravel mulch to complement your garden design and keep your trees alive!

Get your outdoor space even more perfect with homify’s best garden edging tips and ideas.

Would you consider adding gravel to your garden?
Whitton Drive by GK Architects Ltd Modern

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