Amongst the most common reasons why someone might consider a complete redesign of their garden is to lessen the maintenance involved and one of the most hated maintenance jobs in the garden is mowing the lawn. Mowing the lawn is second only to the dreaded weeding. You can cut down on both these tasks by creating a low-maintenance gravel garden.
If your main concern is to cut down on the weeding, you can keep your lawn and simply replace your earth borders with borders that are dressed with gravel. To do this, you will have to remove all or most of the existing planting from the borders. Place the plants you want to keep to one side. Now look at the lawn. Where the lawn borders what will be your planting space then you will have to put in an edge. If you don't, you will spray gravel up into your face every time to go to strim the lawn edges. The best type of edge to use is a monoblock mowing strip. Because the monoblocks are nice and small, you can get a good curve with them and their face gives you just enough room to put the wheels of your lawnmower on.
The picture on the right, shows how this is done. The monoblock edging is set into a mortar base and sits just below the level of the lawn and just above the level of the gravel. This makes edging your lawn a whole lot easier and stops gravel getting kicked onto the lawn. Once you have fully edged your lawn, you are ready to plant up and dress your borders.
The first thing you should do is dig over the border to introduce air into the soil and make it easier to work. Remember, this is your last opportunity to improve your soil so, if it is heavy then add a little peat free compost to break it up a bit. You can add a general purpose granular fertilser at this stage too. When you have dug over the soil, rake it nice and even so there will be no bumps underneath the gravel.
Now you can lay out your weed suppressant membrane and peg it or weight it down. Weed membrane is a woven fabric matting, usually black, which blocks out light to the weeds and keeps the gravel seperate from the soil. Don't skimp here and use bin bags or plastic sheeting. The weed membrane is woven for a reason - it allows water to pass through it and into the soil. Moreover, plastic degrade in sunlight and will break up over time.
After you have laid out the membrane, position your chosen plants, in their pots, where you think they should go. For gravel gardens, the best way to plant is in pockets or drifts so that you create little islands of planting and you can still see plenty of gravel.
Next you need to plant through the membrane. Cut a cross in the membrane big enough to accomodate the plant and fold back the edges. Carefully remove enough soil to allow you to plant the plant. Keep a container close by to put the soil into. You want to avoid letting soil fall onto the membrane. After planting, fold back the edges of the membrane to form a tight seal around the plant.
Finally, you can dress the membrane with gravel. What gravel you choose is very much a personal choice and there are many different types to to choose from. Very small gravel (10mm or less) can be a bit of a pain because it gets stuck in the ridges on the soles of your shoes when you walk on it. This small gravel can also be a favourite with local cats because it feels very much like cat litter to them! Light coloured gravel can look really good - at first. Beware of white gravel, it can get dirty very quickly and you can't take the pressure washer to gravel.
With the gravel in place, you can accessorise with ornaments if you feel like it or texturise by introducing different sizes of cobbles and rocks for added interest.
You can, of course, get rid of the lawn too and make your whole garden low maintenance. If you do this, you should break up the gravel with a nice paving design or plenty of accessories so that it doesn't look too bland and utilitarian. Whatever design you choose, your gravel will be low-maintenance not no-maintenance. You should take time every now and again to check for weeds pushing up through the membrane. Some of the stronger weeds will do this. If you see weeds, give them a scoosh with a gentle, intercropping weedkiller such as Weedol. These weedkillers will kill whatever green material they touch but are inactive on contact with the soil so they won't spread to the plants you want to keep. Pay particular attention to the edges of the membrane as this is the place where weeds can accumulate. Feed your plants with a foliar feed every now and then to keep them growing strong.
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