March 15, 2012

The Gravel Garden Expansion

We're rocking around the garden again! After the April 2011 gravel garden project proved to be such a success, we were shoveling and raking again on the first sunny days of a very early spring. I have to be more specific with the work credit—my husband did the heavy hauling and shoveling and I raked the gravel to smooth it into place.

We did nothing to the last year's garden (photo below, click to enlarge) except raked it a bit and tugged out a few weeds that were easy to pull. All the shoveling and raking work of the last week was done to extend the use of gravel in the front entrance, upgrade the path through the deer resistant garden and create a Zen-inspired garden where a chaste tree was removed.

The gravel garden/guest parking on 15 March 2012.
View is looking toward driveway from the garden gate.
Constructed in April 2011.
The Pros of Using Gravel

My husband is an enthusiastic supporter of gravel projects because he is in charge of mulching. Over the  years, the application of hardwood mulch had to be repeated at least twice a year. That was a lot of work and expense. Voles love to tunnel under the hardwood mulch and they were slipping into the garden and devouring nearly every root they found. In Winter 2010, the vole damage was devastating! In Winter 2011, after we'd increased gravel mulch, the vole damage was ZERO!  Of course, we still use  hardwood and compost mulch in some garden spaces.

The maintenance of the gravel garden has been easy and I certainly needed to downsize my work! We've not added gravel to last year's locations and the weeding was minimal. We use a wide plastic rake and a battery-operated blower to keep the gravel clean. The ground beneath the gravel stays relatively moist, making it easy to pull weeds (and flower seedlings). In fact, I easily wiggled out larkspur, poppy and nigella seedlings that were then transplanted into proper spaces in the garden beds.

We mulch Japanese irises, monarda, nepeta, salvia greggii, perennial heliotrope, amsonia hubrichtii, rosemary, sedum, buddleia, crape myrtle and hollies with gravel. When I left the irises and monarda in place last year, I was sure that the perennials would bake and die since the gravel garden is in a southwest location. However, the opposite happened! I never once provided supplemental watering to any of the gravel garden plants during the summer drought. The gravel is permeable, allowing water to slowly seep into the soil. The gravel then reflects the sunlight, keeping the soil shaded and moist far better than hardwood mulch.

The gravel makes it easy to walk in the garden year-round. It is especially nice on moonlit nights!

The Cons of Using Gravel

Not everyone likes the look and it's difficult to remove gravel once it is in place. While I'd love to use an expensive pea gravel for a prettier look, the cost is prohibitive, tripling the price of what we are using. The gravel that we use is $50 per CUBIC yard.

You must keep the edges separated from grass. Grass will creep and crawl across the top of gravel, so using edging will help keep the grass at bay. We use a flexible metal edging (dark brown color) that is easy to drive into soil using the provided stakes and a rubber mallet. If you've got rock beneath your soil, it will be more difficult.

You must have a way to keep the gravel from washing away during heavy rains. We have buried French drains around our entire garden perimeter, uphill from all of our gravel.

Entry Garden: 15 March 2012.
View is from the gravel/guest parking
looking toward cottage garden gate.
Container gardens will be placed on the
right side of the existing flagstone walk.
The Gravel Garden Expansion Projects

Entry Garden: We removed the unwanted plants and hardwood mulch on either side of the flagstone walk that leads to the cottage garden gate. In areas where we want in-ground plants, we do not use landscape fabric beneath the gravel. Sedum and dusty miller are at the base of a crape myrtle (on the left behind birdbath). I am going to use container gardens, placed on top of the gravel on the right side. Nepeta, crape myrtle, Japanese irises, amsonia and a clumping bamboo remain planted in the ground.

Deer Resistant Garden Path: We set aside our existing flagstone while we worked. We hammered the flexible brown metal edging in the ground. The edging curves along the bottom of the deer resistant garden on the slope on the right side. On the left side, around the carrisa hollies and the crape myrtles, we replaced hardwood mulch with gravel to integrate with the new path. We raked the gravel into place and then placed our flagstones on top.

Deer Resistant Garden Path: March 2012.
Hollies and crape myrtles mulched
with gravel while metal edging
keeps the gravel out of the thickly planted
deer resistant garden on the right.
Zen-inspired Gravel Garden: After seeing a Karesansui garden at Villa Ephrussi in France, I wanted to create a similar space here at home. At the willow tree on the far end of the deer resistant front garden, there is a left turn on the outside of the cottage garden, east side of the house.

In that location, we had a large chaste tree that littered the ground with millions of seedlings each year. The seedlings were horrible to pull, requiring a shovel for the long roots. (We transplanted a few offspring out into our grassy meadow where they can no longer cause a problem in the garden.) Removing the large tree freed up my space for the Zen-inspired gravel garden.

While it is still a work in progress (I want to add evergreen hollies behind the pagoda and find more large rocks for the edges), we're already enjoying this tranquil space. An existing clumping bamboo (fargesia variety) was left in place.

Osmanthus fragrans provide a green, fragrant wall on the left side. Another osmanthus fragrans on the right side creates the entrance to the this garden after passing the willow tree and a garden space filled with red monarda 'Jacob Kline' and crocosmia 'Lucifer'. I must say that the fragrance from the osmanthus is heavenly right now! We moved our curved concrete bench to the space to provide a place to sit. The willow tree, large oakleaf hollies and osmanthus provide afternoon shade.

Zen-inspired Gravel Garden:
work still in progress, March 2012.

Early spring is the perfect time for construction projects. While the edging looks stark right now, the plants will grow and flourish to soften the edges as the garden wakes up from winter, fills in, greens up and blooms. We have some tweaking to do as the gravel settles. We'll level out the flagstones and rake the gravel again after a few rains. Then, we'll enjoy the new space year-round.

Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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