Gravel is an extremely versatile material which is of great use to the backyard or garden landscaper. It can be used for its aesthetic qualities or for its functional qualities, or indeed for both at the same time. Landscaping gravel can be used for pathways, driveways, ditches, and in walls and gardens.
Gravel's excellent draining qualities make it an ideal material for garden paths. It has the added advantages of being firm, durable and attractive. In a vegetable garden in particular, where the paths
Gravel is used to back stone retaining walls, giving a covered area behind the wall through which water can percolate. This is necessary for dry-stone, un-mortared walls to prevent the water carrying soil into the wall. The gravel acts as a filter and the water can safely drain through the gravel and through the crack in the wall without doing any damage. It is equally important to have a gravel back-filling for a mortared garden retaining wall. In this case the gravel should be behind the wall on the same level as the wall foundations. A foot's depth of gravel, top filled with soil behind the wall, allows the water to soak down from the soil and drain through the gravel. If the soil behind a mortared wall remains very wet, the moisture will creep into the wall and weaken the mortar, especially in freezing conditions.
Gravel can also be used where water runs down the garden from above, saturating the garden ground. A ditch should be dug diagonally across the top of the garden and filled with gravel. The water does not then enter the garden ground, but is carried off down the gravel filled ditch.
Gravel in a herb garden
Most herbs self seed freely, but in soil their seeds are easily washed down and are unable to germinate. If, however, the herbs are grown in fine, rather sandy, gravel, the seeds are held in the gravel and will germinate. A gravel herb garden can be of any size. It is possible to do this with a very small area in a sunny corner of a larger garden, or you can have an area 40 feet by 40 feet, round which you can wander. Surround the gravel herb garden with a low box hedge or stone wall. In a large area, mark out some narrow winding pathways before you start planting and put in creeping scented chamomile plants. Unless you are wanting an 'instant' garden, put the plants about six inches apart â they spread well and will give you a mat of chamomile to walk on with a year, releasing their scent as they are trod on (the author has her gas tank buried under the herb garden â the gasman becomes quite eloquent on how he looks forward to delivering the gas!). Inside, plant the herbs informally, following only the rule that very tall herbs such as fennel and evening primrose should be towards the back of the garden. Keep annual cooking herbs such as parsley, coriander and basil in the vegetable garden and use the herb garden for perennials. Plant rosemary, bay, lavender, all the varieties of thyme that you can find, marjoram, sweet cicely, tarragon, bergamot, hyssop, southernwood, soapwort â the list is endless. A large area may look rather austere and bare in its first year â by the third year, it will be difficult to see the gravel underneath and you will need to start thinning the herbs out â giving plants away to friends and neighbours.
The gravel garden
The other, spectacular, use of gravel for landscaping is to use it as it is used in Japanese garden design, where the gravel, raked into waves and circles, is in itself the garden with nothing or very little planted in it, but a focal points of rocks placed in the gravel. The gravel is kept scrupulously free of any fallen leaves or plant materials. This is a very specialised use of gravel in landscaping, which has been adopted in the west, in many cases to great effect.