Simple, elegant, and economical
Story and Photos By Nan K. Chase
Gravel walkways or paths never go out of style. A well-installed gravel path can last forever, bringing elegance to any garden. Even better, gravel is inexpensive, low maintenance, and available in variety of colors, sizes, and materials.
Ancient Romans laid gravel roadways across their empire and Japanese gardeners created beautiful gravel courtyards. Estates in Britain and Europe often had expanses of gravel in front, and colonial American homes also used gravel for paths and driveways.
My love affair with gravel began a decade ago, after my husband and I built a new house in Asheville. Mud was everywhere, and after a year we realized the problem wouldn’t fix itself. Instead of lawn on our tiny lot – less than 1/10-acre – we had a series of rutted tracks circling the house where we pushed the wheelbarrow.
The solution was gravel. We called in a landscape pro, and together we designed a pathway and then he got to work: clearing vegetation, removing soil to a depth of 6-8 inches, and then installing flexible steel edging and a protective layer of breathable landscape fabric. Finally, the ½-inch sharp crushed gravel – lots of it. And those walkways still look like they were just installed.
Gravel walkways drain easily – all year and in all kinds of weather. An occasional pass with a soft rake keeps them looking tidy and any errant seedlings are easy to see and remove.
The Line Starts Here
Materials used for gravel “paving” include crushed seashells, tumbled glass pellets, ground pottery shards, and processed lava rock or sandstone. Typically, though, gardeners use small pebbles or crushed stone, since these are cheap and readily available (search the internet for quarries that can deliver dump truck loads). Buy gravel that is ¾-inch or smaller.
The type of gravel to use is a personal choice, but often gardeners like gravel that matches the local soil, since it looks natural. Gardeners in cold climates sometimes use dark gravel, which helps speed up melting snow and ice; in hot regions some prefer lighter colors because it stays cooler. I much prefer the pleasant “crunch” of sharply ground stone to the annoying “squeak” of round pea gravel. You may disagree.
When laying out a gravel path, see how many curves you can include. Curves gently guide the eye through the landscape and provide opportunities to create interesting planting beds.
Edging can be anything strong enough to keep gravel contained: bricks, dressed stone, etc. More economical options include semi-rigid metal or heavy plastic strips that are anchored into the desired shape with big pins.
A good source for design ideas with depictions of gravel “paving” is The Bartlett Book of Garden Elements by Michael Valentine Bartlett and Rose Love Bartlett. Check it out here on Amazon.