Gravel 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 a 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.
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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