Gravel garden ideas – 10 ways to create a low-maintenance outdoor space

Create a drought-resistant gravel garden to cut down on watering and enjoy a wealth of Mediterranean plants. Here's how to get started...

Gravel garden ideas
(Image credit: Future)

Gravel garden ideas can create depth and bring structure to your garden, as well as adding a decorative touch depending on what type of gravel you use. 

Whether it's a path to your front door, a walkway that meanders around your back garden or a destination path that leads to a particular spot, a gravel garden path can enhance the look of your garden.

There is a wide range of plants that struggle without very well-drained soil, and creating a gravel garden is a great way to enjoy them. Plants from the Mediterranean, South Africa and California in the USA thrive in the light, stony conditions and are – by and large – very low maintenance. There is no need to water and minimal weeding; plus, the aromatic and silver-leaved plants that enjoy such dry soil tend to be more resistant to pests and disease. The only slog of a gravel border is its creation, and that can be started now.

Gravel garden ideas

These gravel garden ideas will inspire you to create your very own low maintenance outdoor space – and it's just as well that now is the perfect time to start creating a one, big or small. The benefits of gravel gardens are endless. Let us count the ways...

1. Use gravel in a small courtyard garden

Gravelled courtyard garden ideas with tall box hedges and a buddha statue.

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton )

'Keep it simple – don’t get too carried away when planning a gravel garden,' says Dan Bowyer of Fisher Tomlin & Bowyer. 'A carefully chosen palette of materials and plants is often the most satisfying. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t be experimental within your small garden ideas. Just be mindful that trying to squeeze too much into a compact space will make it cluttered and decrease usability.'

It also pays to keep material in mind when designing your small courtyard ideas. For instance, gravel is not only low-maintenance and affordable, but it is also one of the most security-conscious garden path ideas as the noise it makes underfoot can be a good burglar deterrent. 

2. Do use recycled and biodegradable materials for an eco-friendly path

An example of courtyard ideas in a side return, with gravel and paved flooring and a wooden table.

(Image credit: Future / Matthew Williams)

‘Recycled or upcycled materials offer great options for gravel pathways. Used scaffolding boards or part-recycled composite materials, such as decking is a good choice,’ says Amelia Bouquet, owner, Amelia Bouquet Garden Design

‘Treat scaffolding boards with an eco-friendly wood preservative to deter rot, and ensure they are not in direct contact with the soil. For a flood resistant gravel pathway, try clay pavers. Lay them on a sub-base of free-draining sharp sand to make your path permeable, with an edging set on a mortar base for stability.'

3. Choose gravel to deter burglars 

Garden path ideas

(Image credit: Future / Helen Cathcart)

Gravel is not only cheap and low-maintenance, the often loud crunching noise it makes underfoot can be a good burglar deterrent. 

Invest in a stone size that won’t easily stick in the soles of shows and get ‘walked’ into the house. Gravel can also be used to soften hard-paved edges and to unify unrelated areas in the garden.

4. Choose the best plants for a gravel garden

Gravel garden ideas with raised bed planters

(Image credit: Future)

'Gravel is great for borderline hardy plants,' says gardener, Derry Watkins, 'because it’s usually winter wet that kills them. Mediterranean plants hate having wet roots. Also, the rock conserves heat. You don’t need to mix the gravel into the soil – just plonk it on top. Gravel is not cheap initially, but it’s low-maintenance in the long term.'

Do the groundwork now, then in spring plant drought-resistant gems, such as yucca, rosemary, helichrysum and verbena in the gravel and the roots will find their way down to the soil. When they bloom happily above the attractive stone, demanding minimal TLC, it’s easy to understand why this no-water style of gardening is becoming so popular.

5. Create a walkway with durable materials

Garden path ideas

(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside)

‘When selecting materials, think about practicalities first and then the design effect you want to achieve,’ says garden designer Phil Hirst. ‘A durable material such as gravel is a wonderful choice for a well-used path close to your house. Ideal for an informal path, gravel looks softer than solid paving and comes in a range of colors. It’s also relatively inexpensive, easy to lay and allows rainwater to soak through, helping to prevent flooding.'

6. Set up a seating area in a rock garden

Gravel garden ideas with seating area

(Image credit: Future)

Gravel is one of the best patio materials and so if you’re using it as part of your modern rock garden ideas then consider leaving space for a serene seating area. Be sure to have a decent-sized space which is completely flat, as shown here with slabs of pale stone. Then add a bistro table and chairs or sun loungers to create a private area for relaxation.

7. Edge gravel paths to prevent gravel from bleeding into the borders

Garden edging ideas

(Image credit: Future / Allan Pollok-Morris)

‘Not all garden path ideas need an edge, but if you have gravel or grass, an edge can help to define the route,’ says Joanne Willcocks of Gardens by Design. ‘Metal edging is commonly used for grass paths, or you can lay bricks or tiles on a mortar base to create an edging that’s slightly lower than the grass, making mowing easier. A core gravel stabilisation system (a honeycomb-shaped grid that helps keep stones in place) is a good option. Look for an eco-friendly system made from recycled plastic.'

8. Create the ultimate easy garden

Gravel garden with garden path and flowers

(Image credit: Future)

If you create the gravel border correctly, it will be the most low-maintenance part of the garden. Save for cutting things back and removing leaves, there is little to do. It’s vital to first remove all perennial weeds first, and get the right balance of soil and gravel – for example, if you don’t put a thick enough layer of gravel onto heavy soil, you will get weeds.

9. Design a winding gravel path

Garden path ideas

(Image credit: Future / Allan Pollok-Morris)

‘Straight paths made from stone or porcelain pavers are often used to emphasize a formal or modern style, while more rustic materials such as bricks, gravel or grass are ideal for cottage or wild gardens,’ says Gianna Utilini, owner, Gianna Utilini Garden Designs. ‘Take a picture of your plot from an upstairs window and envisage how a path could enhance the style, perhaps using two routes that cross in the centre of the space for a formal look. Brick pavers laid lengthways along a path can further highlight the direction of travel too.’

10. Choose a low-maintenance dry garden

A gravel path with white and purple planting

(Image credit: Beth Chatto)

If you're looking for way to plan a dry garden, go for gravel. 'Lawns risk making our gardens bland, says nurseryman Oliver Filippi. 'Finding ways to replace them is a move against uniformity.' This on-trend design approach is both low-maintenance and eco-friendly.

Poor, stony soil is a bonus for creating a Mediterranean-style garden. Weeds grow less easily than they would in rich soil and ground-cover plants can spread comfortably without being swamped by competitors. A gravel garden is a good option, suppressing the germination of weeds almost entirely. This balance between plant and stone is characteristic of Mediterranean landscapes.

How can I make my gravel garden path look nice?

‘When planning a gravel garden path or walkway, there are many things to consider,’ says James Scott, MD and principal designer, The Garden Company. ‘For example, is it a main or subsidiary route, which can determine its width and the material you choose? Will the color and shape complement the style of gravel garden and your house? And how will it direct people around the garden and link different areas, ensuring a smooth transition from one to another. If the path is on a slope, you will also need to use slip-resistant materials to make it safer when wet or icy.

Think about your garden edging ideas too. When it comes to keeping our gardens neat and tidy, getting your gravel garden borders right is key. Popular choices include stone, brick and concrete, while more creative options range from logs and shells to recycled roof tiles and coated-wire.

How to create a gravel garden

Creating a gravel garden is easy, simple and low-maintenance. Here's how to create a gravel garden, no matter the size or style of your outdoor space.

1. Choose a site in full sun. A lot of drought-loving plants don’t require shelter. 

2. Remove perennial weeds. If the area is large, a weed killer may have to be used. An eco option is to put down old carpet, but this takes longer. 

3. Prepare according to what you have. On very sandy, stony soil, add compost after removing top soil. On clay, remove top soil and add several inches of gravel without mixing it in. 

4. Plant in spring, ensuring you choose drought-lovers, such as Russian sage, cistus and lamb’s ear.

A gravel path with white and purple planting

(Image credit: Beth Chatto)

A gravel path with white and purple planting

(Image credit: Beth Chatto)
Jennifer Ebert
Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.