Last Modified: April 6, 2024

Gravel Landscaping Applications

21 ways to use gravel in Garden Design

Red granite garden

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist

Overview

Gardens are not just places for plants and flowers; they are also living spaces for insects and pollinators, hedgehogs and birds. Importantly, they can be a very functional space for us. It's a sanctuary for some. A market garden for others. A place where family and friends pass information across generations and spend time enjoying the company of each other. This blend of the aesthetic and practical is a harmonic most homeowners want for their garden.

However, the art of creating a garden that offers more than transient beauty at the mercy of the seasons takes more than just the planting of flowers, shrubs and trees. It involves incorporating textures, colours and functionality into the mix that will also defy the wintery gloom. Decorative gravel and stone chippings, with their many colours, textures and practical benefits, can play a pivotal role in helping to create a beautiful and practical garden design.

In this article, we cover 21 of the most popular applications for gravel and chippings in landscape design. We begin with the benefits of using gravel around the garden and look at how to choose the right gravel for your project or garden idea. We also provide a number of links to more detailed information about each of the applications. By the end, we hope that you'll be brimming with ideas for renovating your front garden with gravel, or pondering the limitless possibilities of stone chippings for your back garden. From there, you can head over to our step-by-step, DIY guide on how to lay chippings. Let's start chipping away at this comprehensive list!

And just a quick note about our new tool, called the 'Pebble Picker', in the sidebar or menu - it allows you to effortlessly browse and choose from every decorative aggregate based on their colour and type. Check it out!

Landscaped garden with mendip chips and river rocks

Key Takeaways

  • What are the aesthetic benefits of using gravel in garden design?
  • How can gravel be used for practical purposes in landscaping?
  • What types of gravel and stone chippings are best suited for different garden applications?
  • Does gravel contribute to the sustainability of a garden?
  • The list of 21 ways to incorporate gravel in your garden landscape.

The Benefits of Using Gravel for Garden Design

Stone chippings and gravel are more than mere functional aggregates for use in hardscaping and construction. They are also beautiful, decorative aggregates utilised in landscaping and garden design, offering a range of possibilities with the vast spectrum of colours and textures available today.

Versatility in Design

Although mostly unknown to the public, there is a huge range of decorative gravels and chippings in the UK that cover a variety of colours, textures, and sizes. They can cater to so many different styles with something affordable for just about any budget. But how do you find them?

Well, the good news is that at Outdoor Aggregates, we bring them all to you in our encyclopaedia of decorative aggregates. With over 100 unique aggregates and growing, we offer readers access to just about every type found in the UK, making almost any style or preference achievable and right at the tip of your fingers. It's all linked to the colour picker in the sidebar, and if you haven't clicked on it yet, it's our aggregate-matching technology. It allows you to add some filters before showing you the types of stones and other aggregates that match as closely to your preferences.

Gravel front garden with plum slate feature

Landscaping with Gravel is Sustainable

Gravel is a sustainable choice for environmentally conscious gardeners. It's permeable, allowing rainwater to soak into the soil, replenishing groundwater and reducing runoff. This helps homeowners conform with the new SuDS requirements in force starting from 2024. SuDS are now mandatory for most new construction in England and require a SUDS-specific authorisation prior to construction starting, even where planning permission is not required. It also applies to any project in the front garden of 5 m² or larger, making gravel an excellent option for eco-friendly landscaping practices.

Low Maintenance and Durable

It also goes without saying that a gravel landscape or areas laid with stone chippings do not require regular mowing, watering or much general maintenance. Due to the type of material, they are extremely long-lasting, and with a good installation and a bit of occasional upkeep, these features can last for decades.

20mm shingle garden with rockery and ornamental grasses. Jpg

Choosing the Right Gravel for Your Garden

The type of gravel you choose can have a significant impact on the appearance and functionality of your landscaping features. There are at least seven main categories of gravel, which we list below.

  1. 1
    Pea Gravel: Small, rounded or angular stones, often used to refer to any type of small gravel.
  2. 2
    Crushed Gravel: Angular gravel that's available in various sizes, it's perfect for driveways and as a base material.
  3. 3
    Pea Shingle: Garden shingle is naturally-weathered, triangular stone used for decoration and garden design.
  4. 4
    River Rock: Naturally weathered, smoother stones, available as pea gravels, cobbles and decorative stones.
  5. 5
    Slate Chippings: Flat and angular; available in a range of sizes and shades like grey, blue and purple.
  6. 6
    Self-Binding Gravel: Composed of a mix of varying sizes of gravel from 20mm down to dust, they contain ingredients that set for a durable path or outdoor area.
  7. 7
    Decomposed Granite: Grano dust is finely crushed grey granite, sometimes found in reddish tones.

Types and Colours of Gravel

Pea gravel from river rock is small, round and smooth in texture, making it comfortable underfoot. The smaller stones pack down best for use on paths and for other decorative purposes that don't involve vehicular traffic.

Crushed gravel, which is an angular and sharp type of gravel, is made from the process of crashing larger rocks using mechanical processes. Due to its shape, it interlocks better, and that makes it an excellent substrate for surfaces ranging from pathways and patios to gravel driveways. However, it is less easy to walk on with bare feet!

Then there's shingle, which is a different animal from gravel. Gravel is made up of small pieces of rock which are round or angular. On the other hand, shingle is a group of stones where one end is thicker than the other, a bit like a triangle. Due to this shape, shingle won't pack down as well as crushed aggregates do. This means they are most often used for decorative garden stones ideas whilst still retaining most of the practical benefits of gravel. Shingle gardens utilise these small, sub-angular pebbles to create a unique visual texture and style in garden design.

Overall, decorative chippings are a practical and versatile option suitable for various situations. Gravel is a durable and flexible material that can be installed in almost any location and can last for an extended period. With some additional care and maintenance, gravel landscapes will continue to look as good as the day they were installed, even after many decades. This is why we believe that it is not only a wise but also an affordable investment that will give you immense satisfaction, pride, and joy in the long run while adding to the value of your home.

Red granite chippings and nordic granite with black brick edging

21 Applications of Gravel for Landscaping

And now, to the bit you've been waiting for - 21 of the most popular uses for gravel in garden design. First, we cover some popular front garden ideas with gravel, and then go out the back and look at some more ways to use stone chippings and gravel to beautify the private section of your garden.

Front Garden Landscaping with Decorative Gravel

When you want something for front yard landscaping that's going to make an impact while requiring very little maintenance year-round, it's hard to go past decorative aggregates like stone chippings and gravel. Gravelling a front garden can be one of the fastest, easiest and most cost-effective ways to renovate your public outdoor space. Here are some ideas to whet the appetite:

Front Driveway Ideas with Gravel

Gravel driveways are a feature we are very keen on. This is in part due to their beauty and your ability but also due to the versatility of gravel and its ultimate cost-effectiveness. Gravel driveways can completely transform the look and value of your property while providing a practical solution that will last for decades. Read more about them in our articles: stone chippings for driveways and slate chippings for driveways.

Golden gravel driveway

Parking Areas

Stone chippings or gravel - it doesn't matter - they both make for attractive, budget-friendly parking pads when you need extra space for a grown-up son or daughter's car or your campervan. From budget-friendly limestone chippings or Cotswold gravel to smooth and crunchy golden gravel, there is a look for everybody.

Rock Gardens

There's also something beautiful about the same place as He and ancient, timeless qualities conveyed by large pieces of beautiful stone. When embedded into your front garden as part of a rock garden, they can provide an ultra-low maintenance solution while conveying elegance that also contrasts with the colour scheme of your home exterior.

Slate monolith rockery in polar blue stones

River Rock Accents

Leading perfectly into this section, with their smooth and rounded appearance, incorporating river rocks can bring riverside charm or add a coastal theme to your 'front of house'. Ranging from 10-100mm, these rocks can create a rounded texture for accentuating areas around plants or playing a starring role in a rock garden.

Sloped Landscaping

Many front gardens slope towards the road, and erosion can be a problem. Terracing the garden with gravel is an excellent way to deal with that in a way that also offers the many other benefits that come with gravelling your front garden. Laying gravel in your front garden is also a very DIY-friendly project with fruits that will last for many years to come.

Mulching with Gravel

Gravel mulch is a long-lasting solution that will reduce maintenance and can be used to create beautiful contrasts and patterns that can be very eye-catching. While it may not be suitable for every type of plant, for the most part, it is safe and effective for the common perennials and varieties of plants found in the UK garden. Read more about it here: gravel mulch.

Mulching with gravel and slate chips

Low-Maintenance Gravel Borders

Upgrade the line and contrasts of your front garden beds with some front garden border ideas. Marble gravel, with its natural sparkle and luxurious colours, creates stunning contrasts for your prized shrubs and flowering plants. These chippings, usually 10-20mm and crushed, are a natural mulch, maintaining soil moisture and suppressing weeds whilst adding light and colour to impress your friends and neighbours. We cover using gravel for garden borders in-depth as well.

Ornamental Grasses and Gravel

Pairing ornamental grasses with gravel in your front yard can create a modern, minimalist landscape which can provide some strategic screening without blocking valuable sunlight or taking over. Gravel of any colour can complement the wispy tendrils and sheaves of these grasses, offering beauty and simplicity in garden design.

Alpine blue chippings with red ornamental grass

Stepping Stone Pathways

More suited to the high-traffic areas of a front pathway than gravel alone, stepping stones on a bed of gravel create another level of stability and reduce mud and containment issues whilst adding an elegant touch to your main entrance. Gravel plays its part by acting as a bedding material that adds a beautiful contrast to the flagstones, resulting in an attractive path that is inviting to guests.

Stepping stone pathway with cotswold stones

Need to work out how much gravel your project needs? Try our free gravel calculator.

Front to Back - The Private Gravel Garden

Now that we've covered a range of possibilities for renovating your front garden let's move out to the private garden - whether that is a rear or side garden. In this separate article we also cover the uses for leftover gravel. Ok, let's take it back!

Gravel Pathways and Walkways

Gravel paths are synonymous with everything stylish, elegant and natural. Add to that the fact that they comply with new regulations, are eco-friendly and can be paid on a shoestring, and you have all the makings for the DIY project from heaven. We take a deep dive into this subject in gravel paths in gardens and slate for pathways.

Gravel Edging

Much like a gravel border but used in a more delicate way to create lines and edgings, using gravel for edging can add highlights and symmetry to two beds and borders pathways and any number of features. The limit is your imagination. Read more about edging for gravelWe also have a step-by-step guide on how to make edging for a garden available.

Panda gravel edging along a brick driveway

Water Features

With most gravel fish-friendly, aside from limestone chippings, gravel can play an integral part in a water feature that contains aquatic life. On top of that, a bed of gravel at the bottom of a fountain can be used to reflect light or create a diverse number of designs and patterns for the embellishment of your flowing water feature. Check out our article on the art of the slate water feature.

Japanese Zen Gardens 

Gravel garden design encompasses the famous Japanese Zen gardens, which, to some, are the epitome of tranquillity and balance. By raking fine gravel into calming patterns, these gravel gardens' texture and sound underfoot also promote a sense of peace and mindfulness. Find out more about designing small gravel gardens.

Gravel Seating Area with Fire Pit

As a tradition that spans millennia, sitting around a fire and socialising while you eat and drink and continues today but in a contemporary format. The addition of a fire pit to a gravel seating area can be a practical focal point that makes an area in your outdoor living space usable right into the coldest parts of winter. The fireproof surface offered by stone chippings makes it an unbeatable combination. Read more about gravel patios.

Xeriscaping

In dry climates, gravel is to xeriscaping what ocean is to surfing. A gravel garden reduces the need for watering, and with a range of hues that complement the earthy tones of drought-tolerant plants, this low-maintenance landscaping style is both environmentally friendly and aesthetically attractive.

Children's Play Areas

A fine pea gravel play surface provides a soft and durable landing for children. While not as soft as the alternatives, at the right depth, its texture is gentle enough to cushion falls, making it a safer alternative to hard surfaces. 

1swings in a childs play area image by s v from

Terraced Gardens

In terraced gardens, gravel aids in drainage and reduces soil erosion. Using gravel of about 14-20mm in size aids in proper water flow and stability, especially on sloped terrains, making your terraced private garden both functional and stylish.

Alpine Gardens

Gravel mimics alpine environments, creating a natural habitat for alpine plants. With options such as ice blue chippings and Everest blue to work with, these gravels provide excellent drainage while reflecting sunlight, creating the ideal conditions for mountain plants.

Patio and Outdoor Living Spaces

Imagine a gravel patio that echoes the natural beauty of your garden. A layer of pea gravel, about 10-14mm thick, provides a stable yet soft surface, perfect for outdoor seating areas. It's not only pleasing to the eye but also to the touch, making your outdoor living space a cosy retreat for relaxation and entertainment. Find out more in patio gravel ideas.

French Drains

Gravel is a crucial component in constructing French drains, providing an efficient pathway for water to flow away from structures and landscaped areas. Its permeability allows water to seep through while preventing soil from clogging the system, thereby enhancing drainage and reducing water accumulation.

1yorkshire cream flint and scottish river pebbles used in a french drain

Greenhouse Flooring

In greenhouses, gravel flooring helps manage humidity and drainage. A layer of about 30-60mm of 10mm gravel allows excess water to drain away, maintaining an optimal environment for plant growth and reducing muddy footprints and the spread of pathogens.

Summary

Now, you have seen how versatile gravel really is in garden design. Not only does it offer almost endless opportunities for customisation and individuality within garden design, but it performs a raft of vital practical tasks that would otherwise require a lot of time and other solutions to get to the same result. Why not go ahead and play with our colour picker so you can see which stones are out there in your favourite colours, textures and styles?

1pea shingle driveway with shrubs. Jpg

FAQs

How can I use gravel in my landscaping?

Gravel can be used in various landscaping applications such as pathways, driveways, garden beds, water features, and as mulch to suppress weeds and retain soil moisture.

What are the benefits of using gravel in the garden?

Gravel offers several benefits, including low maintenance, excellent drainage, versatility in design, weed control and the ability to completely rejuvenate your garden's landscaping.

Can I use gravel for a driveway or walkway?

Yes, gravel is an ideal material for driveways and walkways thanks to its durability, permeability and sound traction and stability.

What types of plants complement a gravel landscape?

Succulents, cacti, ornamental grasses, drought-tolerant perennials, and rock garden plants are well-suited to gravel landscapes, thriving in well-draining conditions. Spring bulbs will also sprout and flower earlier in a gravel bed.

What is the best type of gravel for garden?

The best gravel will depend on the intended use and your individual preferences. Common types include pea gravel, crushed stone, river rock and grano dust. They all have their special powers around the garden.

Do I need to install a weed barrier under the gravel?

While you do not need to install a weed barrier under gravel, a heavy duty weed membrane for features that experience traffic or where low-maintenance is desired.

How do I maintain a gravel landscape?

Maintenance is generally minimal for a gravel landscape, with occasional raking to keep it level, removing weeds and replenishing gravel being the scope of upkeep. Click the link to find out more about how to clean garden stones.

Can I create decorative patterns with different coloured gravels?

Yes, you can create decorative patterns and designs using different coloured gravels, adding a unique and artistic element to your landscaping. Check out our colour-picker to see the range of colours available to you.

We have every type of gravel available to choose from in the UK. Check them out!

About the author 

Ben Parrot is a landscape gardener and amateur geologist. He is the founder of Outdoor Aggregates, with the mission to create the first encyclopaedia for decorative aggregates. From natural stone through to decorative bark, these aggregates are critical to garden and landscape design, universally.

The problem: There isn't any place where all the different types of decorative landscaping materials and construction aggregates can be found, nor are the specifications of each type readily available. So, enriched by his extensive experience, and inspired by the timeless elegance and raw beauty of stone and rock, etched by nature's artistry over millennia, Outdoor Aggregates was born.