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HOSEPIPE bans, parched grass and withering plants during the heat of summer make gravel gardens seem all the more tempting. In fact, making a gravel garden is pretty easy if you choose Mediterranean-style plants including lavender, euphorbias, cistus, santolina and phlomis, which provide plenty of nectar and pollen for visiting insects.

Gardens of grasses, smaller plants or natives from rocky hillsides are well suited to a gravel garden. Succulents also like a gritty soil.

Once established, a gravel garden featuring drought-tolerant plants such as phormium, blue grass, iris, alpine pinks and sempervivum needs almost no maintenance. Ideally, you need a sunny, well-drained spot with predominantly sandy soil. If you have heavy clay soil add plenty of organic matter before you start to help improve drainage.

Gravel is an ideal background for bright flowers, but paler whites and yellows can look insipid. One down side is that self-seeding plants (such as eryngiums and some geraniums) can become a problem because gravel is perfect for seedlings. Lay landscape fabric over the soil, before you add the gravel, to stop weeds and help prevent the plants self-seeding. Cut slits in the fabric which are large enough to take the root ball of the plants. There's a wealth of choice in grades and colour of gravel, but make sure you choose one which is going to fit in with the colour of your garden stone or bricks and style of your home.

Medium-grade gravels tend to be easier to walk on than smaller grades, rounded pea shingle or large cobbles. If cats are a problem in your garden, they may be put off by larger grades of gravel.

There's a surprisingly wide choice of plants that will survive and thrive in a well-drained gravel garden in a sunny spot, including alliums, ceanothus, salvia, lavender, rosemary, thyme, echinops, nepeta and cosmos, as well as a variety of ornamental grasses.

A comprehensive list can be found on the Royal Horticultural Society''s website at www.rhs.org.uk Gravel gardens are low-maintenance but you will have to weed thoroughly in the first couple of years, while young plants are trying to establish. Once they are big enough they should suppress most weeds naturally. Remove spent flower stalks in the autumn or, if left over winter for architectural effect, in early spring. Helianthemums, cistus and sages will give your garden a Mediterranean feel, while succulents and ice plants, coupled with some lovely grasses, create a more coastal look.

Whatever else you do, make the garden fit into the larger environment. Use some larger rocks, pieces of wood or big old stumps to create focal points.

Many gravel gardens inevitably have a path embedded into them, so that residents don't drag the gravel into the house on their feet. Many end up using railway sleepers, bedded into the gravel, to make attractive, informal paths.

Decide how you want to use the garden before siting the path. Do you want it to feel like one large space or several small areas, do you want the path to meander or would you rather it lead directly to the destination? Once you've planned it in your head, decide where other elements will go, such as plants, boulders or decorative items including potted plants, fountains, or benches and tables.

Get a sketch book or some graph paper to mark your lines and decide where everything will go.

Use garden magazines and websites for inspiration and take a walk around your neighbourhood to see if anyone else has a gravel garden you might want to copy. Once your gravel garden is established, you may never worry again about a hosepipe ban.

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EASY TO MAINTAIN: Iris and lavender, pictured below left, are droughttolerant and ideal for gravel gardens
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Aug 19, 2010
Words:625
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