I can think of a number of positive reasons for creating a gravel garden. Once established they are very low maintenance. Also in these times of climate change, they are drought tolerant. Gravel gardens are normally associated with a Mediterranean style of planting and plants found in this region are ideally suited. Here is a short guide on how to create a gravel garden and some of the plants that will thrive in one.
You can create a gravel garden in almost any area of your garden. However, a sunny spot with well-drained soil is best suited for planting Mediterranean plants. Ideally, you will need a sandy or gravelly type of soil. But don’t despair if your soil does not fit the bill, just add plenty of gravel, sand and organic matter to the area you want to use to change the structure of the soil.
There are various types of gravel you can use, from fine grades to chunkier types. I think a medium grade gravel is best as it is easier to walk on and will not become stuck in the tread of footwear or easily spread about. You can also buy gravels in different colours. Choose a colour that blends well with any stone you already have in the garden.
When spreading gravel over the required area, make sure you use enough to create a depth of at least 6cm. Once planted, your gravel garden will require a bit of intense weeding for the first year or two. But once the plants become well established they will be large enough to suppress most invading weeds. Extra gravel can be added when needed.
There is a large list of plants suited to gravel gardens including shrubs, bulbs, perennials and annuals. Just make sure you are aware of the eventual size of the plant before placing it, smaller plants can easily become swamped by those that grow larger. For bulbs, try both small and larger varieties of allium and colchicum. Shrubs such as hebe, cistus and cordyline look great in gravel gardens. Herbs are also a good idea as they will release their delicious scent as you brush past them. Plant lavender, rosemary, santolina and thyme.
There are many herbaceous perennials you can use, my favourites include euphorbia, kniphofia, nepeta, osteospermum and sedum. You can also use grasses in gravel gardens. These graceful plants will add some structure and atmosphere as their delicate stems sway in the breeze. As with any garden design, colour can be added by planting seasonal annuals in your gravel garden. Try cosmos and gazania. Also try planting scented geraniums in garden planters and placing them in amongst swathes of other plants or at focal points in the garden.