In this midwestern garden, I wanted to create an inviting pathway to connect the kitchen and vegetable garden to an art studio and lawn. This isn’t a primary walkway—it doesn’t require shoveling for snow—so gravel was a good choice given the homeowner’s desire for a naturalistic feel. By raking some of the top layer of loose pea gravel over onto the planting area, I blurred the boundary between pathway and plantings, making them appear as though they are self-seeded and growing out of the gravel itself. The effect would have been very different with a hard paving surface; a hard paved path has definite edges that can visually subdivide a space too much. Using gravel knits path and plantings together, giving this a cottage garden feel that remains fluid and casual.
In some instances where gutters and downspouts aren’t used or desirable on a house, this gravel maintenance zone around the perimeter of the house can be multifunctional. By incorporating a 4-inch perforated drain line beneath the pathway, this gravel strip doubles as an effective drainage system for water that drips from the eaves. This technique also prevents mulch or mud from splashing onto the house or plantings.
Photography by Scott Shigley, Hoerr Schaudt; Illustration by Michael Hill
Herb gardens make the most of gravel’s versatility: The plants are especially well-suited to the free-draining conditions around their base, and will happily self-sow to give the garden a relaxed, naturalistic appeal.
Layer 2, the top layer, consists of decorative pea gravel (about 3⁄8-inch diameter). Again, the gravel’s colors will vary from region to region, so select one that is locally appropriate.
Basic guide to laying a gravel surface:
Step 1. Grab a shovel and wheelbarrow and dig out approximately 4 to 5 inches of soil over the length and width of the gravel path. Make sure that the soil beneath is firm and drains well.
Step 2. Spread the layer of crushed stone. Dampen it lightly with a hose and compact it evenly over the pathway surface with a compactor or hand tamper. You’re done when the surface is about 1⁄4-inch lower than the level of any adjacent paving, edging, or planting bed.
Step 3. Evenly rake out a thin layer of decorative pea gravel over the layer of crushed stone. Just a single stone or two in depth for the pea gravel is enough. Lightly compact the pea gravel into the screenings by hand or motorized tamper.
Step 4. Sprinkle a topdressing of pea gravel over any areas where the crushed stone layer is visible. A light misting of water over the surface will wash away any dust, and you’re finished.
Photography by Hoerr Schaudt
Originally published in Organic Gardening magazine, April/May 2014