Landscaping with gravel

How to choose and use this easy, plant-friendly paving for great paths and outdoor rooms

Gravel entry

A crunchy gravel entry is a clean casual foil for plant textures and colors that crowd it. Japanese silver grass billows over the basalt wall at right beside climbing hydrangea. 'Maori Sunrise' New Zealand flax in a container punctuates the small pond in the middle while 'Palace Purple' heuchera mugho pine and gunnera fill a bed near the house. Cotoneaster spills onto gravel.

Norm Plate

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  • Gravel path edges

    Blur the boundaries to soften path edges.

Hard yet soft ― these seemingly contradictory qualities are part of gravel's appeal.

Durable enough to cover paths, terraces, and driveways, gravel conveys a softer mood than most other types of paving, says Susan Calhoun, garden designer for the Bainbridge Island, Washington. "It feels more organic than pavers or brick," says Calhoun, who prefers to limit the "harder" materials to entrances and heavily used outdoor areas, choosing gravel everywhere else.

"It's the perfect transitional material from house to garden."

Gravel is also versatile, says Los Angeles landscape architect Mia Lehrer. It looks totally natural outside homes in the Italian, French, or English style, yet equally at ease around sprawling ranch houses and contemporary structures.

"It can look casual or crisp, depending on how you use it," Lehrer says.

Flexibility is what Los Angeles landscape architect Rob Steiner most appreciates about gravel. It conforms to any shape, he says, and it's easy to change.

Want to add a new flower bed? Just move the gravel aside ― "no jackhammers needed." Gravel works well in all climates, but for different reasons. In arid regions, it makes a great groundcover for areas of the garden that won't be planted and irrigated.

And gardeners in the wetter Northwest appreciate gravel's quick drainage. "It never puddles up, which is why I love it for paths," Calhoun says.

Affordability is, of course, another benefit, especially if you use local rather than more expensive imported gravel.

"It's a highly cost-effective way to cover an area," Steiner says.

Finally, there's the sensuous quality. Gravel's earthy texture, its give underfoot, and its crunchy sound are the reasons why this oldest of hardscapes will always be perceived as the softest of paving materials.

Next: 3 ways with gravel 


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