Gravel-GardenGravel and cobbles of mixed sizes can be used in all sorts of different ways in the garden. You often hear people say ‘oh I hate gravel’ and they are very averse to using it in the garden. But done well it is an incredibly diverse and useful material.

When people say they hate gravel, what they often mean is they hate the pea shingle that gets stuck in sandals as they walk through it. Or they’ve seen huge areas of it where it’s just uninteresting and dull.

So how do you use gravel in a way that enhances your garden?

There are four main things you need to consider when choosing gravel.

1 Function

Gravel can be used for many things from paths through to areas of open space. It’s a much cheaper alternative to using paving and less maintenance than grass. If you are using it instead of a lawn or a paved area you need to carefully consider how it’s going to look so that you don’t end up with a very boring area. By incorporating planting and different sizes of gravel it can be made to look a lot more interesting.

2 Location

If you’re going to be walking across the area regularly, then I definitely recommend the use of stepping stones or a solid compacted path so that it’s easy to walk on. Also, take into account how much sun the area is likely to get. If the area is particularly shady then the gravel will most likely end up discolouring and going green. Which wouldn’t be very nice to look at! If you’ve chosen large enough cobbles, then it would be okay to pressure wash them and you’ll get away with it in a shady area.

3 Size

The key to gravel looking good and functioning well all comes down to size. If you’re going to be walking across it regularly, then small sizes are more comfortable, but then, of course, they do end up getting in your shoes. If you just want an area to be quite open and with some plants through the gravel, then I like to use 20mm stone mixed with larger sizes of mixed River cobbles.

4 Type

These days, there is an absolutely staggering amount of different types of gravel you can choose from. It can make choosing which one to have a complete nightmare. My personal preference is to keep it quite simple and go for more subtle natural shades.


What type of gravel or stone should you choose?

Avoid any gravels that have been artificially coloured as they end up looking like a cemetery stone! Also, be careful of very porous and chalky types of stone. If there is a lot of powder coming off of the stone and on closer inspection you can see lots of tiny holes then it’s going to go green, because of the porous nature, a lot quicker than solid gravel.

I already mentioned that I use 20mm builder’s stone, this is for several reasons. Firstly I like the look of it, there’s a nice mix of cream and brown and slightly purply colours and it and secondly the price. Because 20mm stone is often used for driveways and for mixing in with ballast, it tends to be relatively cheap. As soon as you purchase any form of gravel that has a fancy name, you can guarantee it’ll be expensive.

20mm stone and river cobbles
20mm stone and river cobbles

To make it look a bit more interesting, that’s when I add the mixed sizes of river cobbles. It completely transforms it from being just a regular looking gravel. Now builders merchants stone will differ from region to region. That’s one of its other advantages, it tends to be sourced locally so naturally looks good with the surrounding areas. It’s also travelled less of a distance which makes it better environmentally.

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Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

    8 replies to "Garden stone and gravel – How to use gravel effectively in your garden"

    • TD Gà Đần

      very good article

    • Silas Knight

      I have always liked the look of gravel in gardens. However, now that I can design my own garden, I am not sure how to best use the stones. Thanks for the tips, I will pay more attention to the location and function that I want.

    • Vivian Black

      The four main things to consider when choosing gravel that you mentioned: function, location, size, and type, were really good guidelines to follow. I didn't realize there were so many different types of gravel, but I liked your tip to go with simple and natural shades. It seems like a mix of smaller stones along with river stones creates a really visually interesting look.

    • Maggie Allen

      Wow, I had no idea that artificially colored gravel can end up looking like cemetery stone. The last thing anyone wants is for their dream backyard to look like a cemetery. My husband and I have been playing around with the idea of using some colorful gravel to help us spruce up the yard and cut down on our water usage, but we'll make sure to only use natural options.

    • Jerry Ken

      Hi Rachel. Very interesting article, thank you. Is there a type or combination of gravel sizes that mitigates best against weeds at all? I find it hard sometimes to convince customers of a nice looking gravel solution due to the likely high maintenance issue, even considering thick black membrane or similar. Thanks in advance

      Jerry K

      • Rachel Mathews

        Hi Jerry, not really tbh. I always use a weed suppressant membrane underneath it which does dramatically help with maintenance. Even if you use a deeper layer of gravel to help suppress weeds, what tends to happen after a while is weed seeds germinate in it as there are often enough fine particles from the stone for them to root into.


      Hello….. Because gravel comes in different colours I’ve used it to high-light dull area’s and used a blue version for “dry” streams and water features (think rain garden or storm-water run-off).

      • Rachel Mathews

        Ooh that sounds nice, like the idea of the dry streams – I’ve used slate for that which also works well.

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