With record droughts drying up large swaths of the country, homeowners are searching for landscaping alternatives that will let them look their neighbors in the eye. Well, look no further, weary waterer! Gravel is helping gardeners save water, cut down on maintenance, and create unique designs that make the average lawn look lame.
Though gravel landscaping is ideal in the desert, this versatile ground cover is as big a boon for homeowners in wetter climates, where gravel can prevent puddles and allows water to gradually percolate into the soil.
As eco-conscious builder Stephen Shoup told Dwell magazine, “One of the challenges in green building is to not only minimize water use but minimize what is getting into our storm drains.” Sustainability is one of the many reasons gravel landscape compositions are popping up everywhere from sprawling ranches in the Southwest to Brooklyn brownstones’ tiny courtyards.
Gravel landscape design was popularized by King Louis XIV’s sprawling gardens at Versailles — think carefully zigzagging gravel paths surrounding beautifully manicured rosebeds. For America, however, the major surge in the use of gravel landscapes came during the 1970s, when the country was, once again, struggling under a drought. For many, the popular combination of gravel and evergreens became ubiquitous with the ’70s and was eventually considered somewhat drab and monotonous. But for today’s landscape architects, it’s gravel’s versatility that makes it so appealing.
“It can look casual or crisp, depending on how you use it,” Los Angeles landscape architect Mia Lehrer told Sunset.com.
Part of gravel’s versatility is that there’s a solution for every taste and price point. Utility gravels average $25 to $50 per ton and decorative gravels average $50 to $90 per ton (plus delivery), making this a relatively affordable ground cover. Choosing the gravel that’s right for you comes down to purpose, location, and composition. For example, if you’re landscaping a driveway, use a thickness that won’t get stuck in your tire tread; if you’re on a slope, use a coarser gravel that will be less likely to slide. In terms of composition, there are endless varieties of color and texture to complement your design.
Also, if you’re aiming to create as sustainable a design as possible, think about using locally mined stone. Some of these varieties may be pricier per pound, but with the price of transportation being a major factor in the overall material cost, sourcing locally might save you some cash. Of course, there are a few concerns to consider when deciding whether or not to landscape with gravel. For example, certain types of gravel can absorb and retain a lot of heat; paler shades of gravel can produce glare; and as an inorganic mulch, gravel will never decompose and add valuable nutrients to the soil.
If you’re looking for some inspiration as you consider saying “goodbye” to grass, check out these 10 diverse examples of homeowners killing it in the gravel game.