• Melding gardens and gravel in the Sierra foothills

    by  • April 12, 2012 • Design, Garden, Projects, Spring • 5 Comments

    Many of us here in the California Sierra foothills have gravel driveways, paths and roads.  This can be a help or a hindrance to gardeners searching for more space in which to garden.

    Beginnings of a gravel garden

    Beginnings of a gravel garden

    Gravel gardens could have their origin in formal Japanese ‘dry landscape’ gardens located on the grounds of Zen Buddhist temples.  The raked gravel was intended to limit distraction and give the impression that the landscape could be in any location not only the existing one.

    Gravel in pots

    Gravel in pots

    The affection for alpine areas, above the tree line, with their tiny compact plants so loved by alpine and rock garden plant collectors also may have influenced the desirability of constructing gravel gardens.

    Plants could be grown along the bottom of the wall

    Plants could be grown along the bottom of the wall as well as the top

    When we, here in the country, already have a n existing expanse of gravel to deal with, plants can add a softening effect and add color and beauty to your “neutral palette.”

    Tiny violas self seed in the rocky soil

    Tiny violas self seed in the rocky soil

    Rock and gravel gardens are once again in style, because they really fit today’s water wise gardening style here in California.  Many of us have to limit the water given over to plants in our gardens. Drought resistant plants can cut down on the amount of hand watering done in the garden, too.

    All plants suited to growing in gravel

    All plants suited to growing in gravel, wallflower, euphorbia, teucrium, santolina and redbud. The red is photina grown to be a screen.

    The good news is many of the plants suitable for a gravel garden are native and available here in our foothills.  Lavender, santolina, agastache, Russian sage, ceanothus, California fuchsia, poppies and yarrow can all be grown wonderfully in a gravel garden. Don’t overlook sedums, grasses and any hardy herbs.

    Take note of the heights that the plant are in full-size and plant the taller ones in back of the shorter ones, just like in any area.  If your gravel area is your driveway, plants that do not spread horizontally may be what you’ll plan.

    A mixture of gravel and pine mulch extend down the hill past lavender and stachys

    A mixture of gravel and pine mulch extend down the hill past lavender and stachys

    Simply pull back the gravel, dig a planting hole the size of your nursery can or root ball, tamp down the soil and replace the gravel which will now act as a mulch.  Only amend the soil if your soil is pure clay or pure decomposed granite, both of which have many nutrients already.

    Water well as usual and water natives once or twice a week in warm weather and less or none at all in a rainy spring.

    lavender in full bloom grows well in the gravely soil

    Lavender in full bloom grows well in the gravely soil

    Each plant stands out in a gravel garden, making it a showcase feature in your yard. Try raking the gravel around your planting area for a neat, serene look.

    About

    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    5 Responses to Melding gardens and gravel in the Sierra foothills

    1. April 13, 2012 at 6:57 pm

      I love the crunch of gravel under foot. I do find that some plants actually seem to prefer growing with a gravel mulch, rather than a wood one, that can harbor fungus and excess moisture. I’d never use a wood mulch around my lavenders now (I did once in a previous garden, and the lavender didn’t survive long). We’re actually getting ready to redo the entire garden area in front of the house, and a mix of gravel and larger stones will be an important part of the overall aesthetic. I can get lost in a stone yard for hours, actually I did last weekend, as there are so many choices and colors of rock! The possibilities are almost endless!

    2. April 14, 2012 at 9:56 am

      I grew up in a retirement community in San Diego. What I remember most about gravel gardens is strange configurations of lava rock, brick chunks, and white rocks arranged in geometric patterns with a few junipers thrown in for good measure. The old folk would get really angry and chase us away if we dared disturb these creations. For many years after I had quite a distaste for gravel in gardens. Now that I’m an “old folk” I’ve come to see the necessity of gravel. It saves you a lot of work and a lot of water. Your garden is lovely, diverse, and casual. I can’t see you chasing kids away either! I’m glad the reincarnation of the gravel garden is so different from what I remember. CVF: I love that crunch too.

    3. April 14, 2012 at 9:56 am

      I grew up in a retirement community in San Diego. What I remember most about gravel gardens is strange configurations of lava rock, brick chunks, and white rocks arranged in geometric patterns with a few junipers thrown in for good measure. The old folk would get really angry and chase us away if we dared disturb these creations. For many years after I had quite a distaste for gravel in gardens. Now that I’m an “old folk” I’ve come to see the necessity of gravel. It saves you a lot of work and a lot of water. Your garden is lovely, diverse, and casual. I can’t see you chasing kids away either! I’m glad the reincarnation of the gravel garden is so different from what I remember. CVF: I love that crunch too.

    4. April 16, 2012 at 5:09 am

      Thanks, Clare and Katie, for your nice comments! While at my sister’s I read Beth Chatto’s book on gravel gardens and having a huge expanse of gravel driveway, decided to do more gardening on it, and with it. I’ve got to work on fixing our driveway, 400 feet long, which my son refers to as the road to an ‘ax murderer’. and plant something somewhat civilized to show that there are nice people living down it. A welcome sign or something. I’m thinking rosemary and levender, my old standbys for areas with no water. 🙂

    5. April 16, 2012 at 5:09 am

      Thanks, Clare and Katie, for your nice comments! While at my sister’s I read Beth Chatto’s book on gravel gardens and having a huge expanse of gravel driveway, decided to do more gardening on it, and with it. I’ve got to work on fixing our driveway, 400 feet long, which my son refers to as the road to an ‘ax murderer’. and plant something somewhat civilized to show that there are nice people living down it. A welcome sign or something. I’m thinking rosemary and levender, my old standbys for areas with no water. 🙂

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *