TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS LIZETTE JONKER
Last updated on 18 October 2017

If you want to make your garden more interesting, water wise and low maintenance, look no further than gravel

Popular in English and Mediterranean gardens gravel makes a hard-wearing groundcover and an attractive alternative to grass. It can be used for pathways, outdoor sitting areas and under trees where grass and other plants won’t grow. If you choose the right colour and size, gravel can also enhance the look of your garden.

potager with gravel

Use gravel in kitchen gardens or potagers like in this one at Stellenberg Gardens in Cape Town

GOOD REASONS TO USE GRAVEL

  • It creates a neat-looking groundcover.
  • It reduces water evaporation.
  • As it crunches underfoot, it alerts you to anyone approaching.
  • It minimises soil erosion.
  • Weeds are suppressed.
  • As gravel allows water to penetrate the soil, it’s more eco-friendly than paving which promotes run-off.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT TYPE

Gravel comes in different sizes and colours. Keep in mind that the finer the gravel the more comfortable it is to walk on. From the wide range of colours choose one that complements the colour of your house and other hard landscaping and is in keeping with the style of your garden. For instance, black stones are more suited to contemporary styles while a cream crush is ideal for a French-style garden.

Morrells

At Morrells Boutique Estate in Jo’burg, gravel around this fountain gives an instant French feel

HOW TO LAY GRAVEL

  • According to Cobus Behrens of Down2Earth Garden Creations, whether it’s a pathway, garden or sitting area, levelling and compacting the area first is crucial.
  • Plant borders and beds surrounding gravelled areas before spreading the gravel so that you don’t end up with soil on top of it as this promotes the growth of weeds. If you have to replace plants in beds later on, cover the gravel with plastic first to prevent soil build-up in the gravel.
pathway

Hard wearing gravel is excellent for pathways. This one in a Pietermaritzburg garden is lined with serissa hedges

  • Place a weed-suppressing fabric like Coolaroo Weedmat on top of the soil to stop weeds growing through. This fabric comes in strips or rolls, usually 90cm wide, so overlap the pieces by at least 3–5cm when covering the area. If weeds grow through, don’t use chemical weed killers as they leach into the soil, killing surrounding plants and wildlife.
  • “Laying gravel is simple. Spread an 8–10cm layer of gravel directly on top of the weed cloth. Four to five 20kg bags will cover 1m²; 1m³ of gravel will cover approximately 10m²,” says Cobus.
  • If the gravelled area adjoins a lawn, install an edging to prevent the stones working their way into the grass and damaging the lawnmower.
containers

Create interest in gravelled areas with pots overflowing with flowering plants such as isotoma alyssum felicia and lobelia

GARDEN STYLES

Gravel can also be used as the starting point for a number of garden styles.

oversized pots

Be inspired by this section of the garden at The Cellars Hohenort in Cape Town where oversized pots are planted with lemon trees

French

  • Gravel is perfect for this romantic style. Use it for a patio under a pergola or for pathways.
  • Plant partners: Lavender, gaura, rosemary, cotton lavender, low-growing landscape roses and bergenia.

English

  • Think wide borders with a profusion of mound-forming plants cascading over gravel paths.
  • Plant partners: Catmint, lavender, gaura, gaillardia, lamb’s ears, irises, agapanthus and dierama.

Alpine

  • Traditionally grown in raised beds, Alpine gardens consist of tough, drought-resistant, high-altitude plants. Use very fine gravel in a cement or stone container on legs.
  • Plant partners: Miniature dianthus species, gazania, Cape daisy, vygies, Armeria maritima, Irish moss, echeveria and crassula species.

Succulent

  • For a low-maintenance, water-wise option, remove the lawn and replace it with gravel and succulents. Once you’ve decided where the plants will go, cut small crosses in the weed cloth and insert the plants. Push the weed cloth back over the soil, up against the stem of each plant. Then cover the area with gravel.
  • Plant partners: Small aloe species, agave, sempervivum, cotyledon, senecio and vygies.

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