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11:05am Tuesday 1st May 2012 in Gardening
WHILE much of the country is now in official drought status and householders are being urged to use water wisely, there’s no better time to create a low-maintenance, low-cost gravel garden which isn’t going to demand masses of water or time to keep it looking good.
Gravel gardens don’t have to look like desert-like areas with little interest. Indeed, many droughttolerant plants provide plenty of colour. Deep red bergenias can be intermingled with white artemisias, dwarf mountain pines with pink-flowered Osteospermum juncundum.
Carpeting stonecrops, such as Sedum Ruby Glow and Vera Jameson, provide colour to the gravel garden in the form of purple-tinged succulent leaves and crimson flowerheads from midsummer to autumn.
They are drought-resistant, attractive to butterflies and look their best planted en masse in gravel gardens.
Other good specimens planted in swathes include Sisyrinchium striatum Aunt May, an upright plant with spiky leaves and creamy flowers, while the swordlike leaves of yuccas and phormiums provide architectural interest planted as single specimens or in small groups.
Many herb garden plants, including thyme, sage, lavender and rosemary, are droughtresistant and can look amazing in a gravel garden, while bulbs including crocosmia, agapanthus and allium will add colour and form to the scene.
It’s important to prepare a new gravel garden carefully, breaking up compacted soil and incorporating plenty of organic matter to give the plants a good start in life.
Many drought-tolerant plants prefer hot, sunny spots but they will still need some care while establishing, before they’re happy to cope with constantly dry conditions.
You can place a membrane under the gravel to stop weeds coming up, but it’s easier to plant without a membrane as then you don’t have to cut through the fabric to put your new plants in.
Once you have dug out the area, finish it off by raking the soil to an even level and then add a 5cm (2in) layer of gravel over the surface.
Ideally, gravel gardens should be planted in autumn to allow the plants to establish their roots in winter, but you can also go for spring planting, although you will probably have to water the plants for a couple of months while they settle in.