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5 recommended drought-tolerant plants for the gravel garden

One of the most popular garden themes over recent years has been the gravel garden. It has become a favourite of many garden designers, particularly when struggling with poor dry soil. Gravel gardens are a great option for a low maintenance garden: they also lend themselves to Mediterranean-style planting and cope well in drought conditions once established. The added advantage of a gravel garden is that by planting drought-tolerant plants, not only can gardeners enjoy a beautiful garden in our changing climate, but they can still be ‘waterwise’ and environmentally friendly.

Gravel garden design and maintenance

There are 3 golden rules of gravel-garden maintenance and design:

  • Deadhead plants that are too generous with their seeds before they spill them.
  • Choose vibrant colours – strong blues, pinks and deep-purples – which will stand out against the paler gravel.
  • Always drift one plant over the whole area to unite your planting scheme( whether it’s a sun-loving grass such as Stipa tenuissima, a blue hardy geranium such as ‘Orion’, or a leafy artemisia or lavender)

Choosing the right plants

There are many suitable plants that will cope in full sun and look good in a gravel setting. Drought tolerant characteristics include silver or grey-green leaves to reflect the sun. Some have a coating of fine hairs on their leaves or stems, helping to trap in moisture. In Ladybrook Nursery’s opinion, plants will always look best when arranged in natural drifts of 3 to 5. It’s also a good idea to let these plants self-seed, providing you keep an eye on this and don’t let it get out of control.

Ladybrook Nursery’s recommended drought-tolerant plants for a gravel garden

  • Spanish Lavender (Lavandula pedunculata), produces flowers topped with long purplish petals (ears). The main flush of flowers comes early; but remove the spent flowers and more will reappear until autumn.
  • Biennial Eryngium giganteum is a beautiful sculptural stainless steel grey plant. It forms a rosette in the first year and produces a branched, angular head the following June: best grown from seed sprinkled straight into gravel.
  • Stipas enjoy warm, sunny conditions and Stipa tenuissima is one of the most enduring and tactile. It is best used as a year-round background plant and changes from fresh-green in early summer, to soft-beige in autumn and winter.
  • Dianthus carthusianorum bears clusters of dark, torpedo-pointed buds which open throughout summer to produce small, bright pink single flowers. These look good emerging through grass, daisies or hardy geraniums.
  • Anthemis: the pale-yellow flowers of Anthemis ‘Susanna Mitchell’ look spectacular in summer surrounded by blues and purples. It is the first anthemis to flower, often sending up its yellow daisies in May. Propagate from cuttings every year as all anthemis are short-lived.

Are there any potential problems with gravel gardens?

  • Small plants can become swamped by gravel. To solve this problem plant specimens on a low mound so that that they are raised slightly above the level of the gravel.
  • Where landscape fabric is not used, weeds and self-seeding plants can become problematic. However, allowing self-seeding can give the garden a more natural look even if some weeding is required.
  • If your soil type is heavy, clay-based, damp, or has a high water table, then gravel garden plants may not thrive. You may be better off going for a different style of garden and selecting planting to suit the conditions.

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