How to plant a gravel garden for wildlife

Surfaced spaces have all kinds of uses, from driveways and off-street parking, to paths and areas to sit in your garden. While there are many surfaces to choose from, gravel can provide a low-maintenance and low-cost choice. As well as this, gravel can provide the perfect environment for drought-tolerant planting and can attract a range of wildlife.

Planning your gravel garden:

  • Find a sunny position for your gravel garden as this is best for drought-tolerant plants.
  • Decide on the shape of the area you want to gravel and mark it out, including areas for planting. Make sure that you give the plants room to spread. An informal, fluid shape is most suitable for this style.
  • Consider incorporating a gravel pool into your garden to maximise its wildlife appeal.
  • Research your planting. A gravel garden naturally lends itself to Mediterranean-style, drought-tolerant planting, so lavender, Euphorbia, rock rose, cotton lavender and Phlomis are ideal and provide plenty of nectar for visiting insects.
Gravel garden
Gravel garden © Chris (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Establishing your gravel garden:

  • Rake the area to gravel. It should sit about 5 cm (2 in) below the surrounding ground to allow for the layer of gravel mulch.
  • If your soil is not naturally sandy or gravelly, it might be necessary to dig to a depth of about 5 cm (2 in), incorporating plenty of grit or gravel and some well-rotted organic matter.
  • Plant up the bed with suitable drought-tolerant planting. Laying a weed-suppressing membrane at this stage helps prevent weeds, but also makes it more difficult for your chosen plants to self-seed, so you might choose not to – the wildlife will be happier too.
  • Once planted, the bed can be mulched with 5 cm (2 in) gravel or shingle. Try to match the colour to other paved or stone structures in the garden.
  • A gravel pool is easily built by digging out a shallow hole to an approximate depth of 30 cm (12 in) in the centre with sloping sides. Like a normal pond, this is lined with a butyl liner and the edges are buried around the sides in a trench or under large stones. Lay a thin layer of soil over the base and then a 5 cm (2 in) layer of 0.5-1 cm (1/4 -1 in) gravel or shingle, adding a few larger stones for variety. Fill with water. Plant around the edges with soggy-soil-loving plants like marsh marigold and ragged-robin.

Maintaining your gravel garden:

  • Keep the plants well-watered for their first season.
  • Top-up the gravel when necessary.
  • You may need to weed out the more invasive intruders for the first few years until the plants fill out and start spreading around.
  • Keep the gravel pool topped up, especially in hot weather as the water is likely to evaporate fairly quickly.

Suggested plants

  • American harebell – Campanula carpatica
  • Bugle – Ajuga reptans
  • Cotton lavender – Santolina chamaecyparissus
  • Dyer’s chamomile (golden marguerite) – Anthemis tinctoria
  • English lavender – Lavandula angustifolia
  • Euphorbia spp.
  • Fleabane – Erigeron spp.
  • Foxglove – Digitalis purpurea
  • Phlomis spp
  • Primrose – Primula vulgaris
  • Red valerian – Centranthus ruber
  • Rock rose (sun rose) – Cistus spp.

Struggling for space?

If you can’t commit to a whole area of gravel garden, you can make mini gravel gardens by lifting a patio slab or two and treating the gaps in the same way as outlined above. This provides more planting opportunities and even happier wildlife.

Time to complete

2 - 4 hours

Anticipated cost

Difficulty Level

Suitable location

Size of garden/greenspace

Best time of year

Associated wildlife


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