Best plants for a gravel garden

Best plants for a gravel garden

Gravel gardens are characterised by sunny, free-draining conditions. Find out plants that will thrive here.

Typified by their sunny, well-drained conditions, gravel gardens are low-maintenance and require much less water than the average garden.

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Given these growing requirements, it’s important to choose drought-tolerant plants for your gravel garden. One of the world’s best-known gravel gardens is at Beth Chatto’s nursery – bursting with life and colour, it has famously never been watered and relies solely on rain.

When choosing a site for a gravel garden, go for a sunny spot. That way you’ll be able to grow the sun-loving Mediterranean species that thrive in poor, dry conditions.

Consider the colour and size of your gravel carefully. Self-binding gravels, such as Breedon gravel, are comprised of varied stone sizes, so are ideal for creating a natural look.

More on gravel gardens:

Browse our pick of the best drought-tolerant plants for a gravel garden, below.


Euphorbias

Best plants for a gravel garden - euphorbia
Best plants for a gravel garden – euphorbia

Euphorbias are remarkably drought-tolerant, and different species can be used to perform different roles in a gravel garden. Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii is fantastic for providing shots of limey colour, while Euphorbia x pasteurii has sweetly scented blooms. Towards the front, try the sprawling Euphorbia myrsinites (pictured).


Nepeta

Best plants for a gravel garden - catmint 'Blue Moon'
Best plants for a gravel garden – catmint ‘Blue Moon’

Catmints are a brilliant, pollinator-friendly addition to gravel gardens. For quick colour, try ‘Six Hills Giant’, which is hardy and vigorous. Nepeta x faassenii is a pretty choice for edging paths.


Verbena bonariensis

Best plants for a gravel garden - Verbena bonariensis
Best plants for a gravel garden – Verbena bonariensis

The airy stems of Verbena bonariensis are fantastic for the contrast they provide with other plants and the bright purple dots of colour from the flowers. Bees and butterflies love the blooms. Find out how to take cuttings from Verbena bonariensis.


Phlomis

Best plants for a gravel garden - phlomis
Best plants for a gravel garden – phlomis

Phlomis produce fantastic whorls of bee-friendly blooms at regular intervals on their stems. They’re a brilliant architectural addition to the gravel garden, as they also provide winter interest in the form of pretty seedheads. For yellow flowers grow Phlomis fruticosa (pictured) or Phlomis russeliana and for icy pink blooms try Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’.


Cistus

Best plants for a gravel garden - cistus
Best plants for a gravel garden – cistus

Most cistus are small evergreen shrubs, with a compact, domed shape and saucer-shaped flowers. They combine especially well with other Mediterranean plants like lavender and rosemary – both of which are at home in a gravel garden. Most cistus have white or pink flowers.


Stachys

Best plants for a gravel garden - stachys
Best plants for a gravel garden – stachys

The silver, furry-leaved stachys like ‘Big Ears’ and ‘Silver Carpet’ are good for a number of reasons. They provide ground cover and flowers for pollinators, as well as attracting solitary wool carder bees, which use the ‘wool’ to line their nests. Another good gravel garden choice with furry leaves is Lychnis coronaria.


Lavender

Best plants for a gravel garden - lavender
Best plants for a gravel garden – lavender

Lavender positively thrives in dry spots. For the the front of borders, try low-growing varieties like ‘Blue Cushion’ or ‘Nana Alba’. To fill larger gaps, go for ‘Grosso’ or ‘Sawyers’.

How to take lavender cuttings


Stipa

Best plants for a gravel garden - Stipa gigantea
Best plants for a gravel garden – Stipa gigantea

Evergreen grasses like Stipa gigantea and Stipa tenuissima are brilliant for the texture and movement they bring to planting schemes. As the name suggests, Stipa gigantea is much larger. They help plants with pompon flowers like alliums, echinops and eryngium to stand out – all of which are suited to a gravel garden.


Gaura

Best plants for a gravel garden - gaura
Best plants for a gravel garden – gaura

Gauras are renowned for their drought tolerance. They have a lovely relaxed quality about them and tend to flower over a long period, starting in mid-spring and ending in autumn.


Agave

Best plants for a gravel garden - Yucca rostrata rostrata
Best plants for a gravel garden – Yucca rostrata rostrata

The key to growing agaves in the UK is keeping them dry over winter. In milder locations most can remain outdoors over winter, or move indoors in colder spots. They’re worth the effort, providing an unrivalled, exotic feel. Dasylirions and yuccas are other good picks for this role.


Sea holly

Best plants for a gravel garden – Sea holly, Eryngium x zabelii 'Jos Eijking'
Best plants for a gravel garden – Sea holly, Eryngium x zabelii ‘Jos Eijking’

Sea holly adds architecture with evergreen sword-shaped leaves and the thistle-like flowers are really eye-catching.


Crambe maritima

Best plants for a gravel garden – sea kale, Crambe maritima
Best plants for a gravel garden – sea kale, Crambe maritima

The wavy, slightly waxy leaves of sea kale have a grey-green tone, while sprays of white honey-scented flowers appear in summer.

H x S 75cm x 60cm


Digitalis parviflora ‘Milk Chocolate’

Best plants for a gravel garden – Digitalis parviflora ‘Milk Chocolate’
Best plants for a gravel garden – Digitalis parviflora ‘Milk Chocolate’

An unusual foxglove with spikes of small orangey-brown flowers in late spring. Adds nice vertical detail.

H x S 60cm x 30cm


Allium sphaerocephalon

Best plants for a gravel garden - Allium sphaerocephalon
Best plants for a gravel garden – Allium sphaerocephalon

This drumstick allium has small heads of purple flowers that look lovely, even when faded.

H x S 90cm x 5cm


Santolina chamaecyparissus

Best plants for a gravel garden - Santolina chamaecyparissus
Best plants for a gravel garden – Santolina chamaecyparissus

Cotton lavender is a small evergreen shrub with feathery silver-grey leaves that are scented when crushed. In summer, it has cheery yellow flowers.

H x S 1m x 50cm

Leave space for seats

Don’t forget to leave some space to enjoy the fruits of your labour. A small, unplanted area will be enough for a bench or bistro set. Use garden lights to make the garden useable in the evening and enhance plants, particularly those with architectural leaves and stems. Try festoon lights or these glass jar lanterns.

Hardy exotics for a gravel garden

Agave montana in a gravel-topped terracotta pot
Agave montana in a gravel-topped terracotta pot
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