The Gravel Garden

Phlomis taurica, artemisia albula 'Silver Queen', achillea, echinacea (not in flower yet), eryngium planum 'Blue Glitter', kalimeris incisa

Mission Gravel Garden accomplished, Sir.

And just in time, I’d say! Unfortunately I didn’t take a single picture in which you can see this part of the garden from a distant point of view but I’ve been lost amongst this drifts of flowers and I forgot about everything else…

The Gravel Garden is designed in streams. You can see the streams if you look from the kitchen door (and from the pergola/patio I’m going to build during this summer). There is a stream of sedums (they are still growing though), a stream of eragrostis spectabilis, a rather short very drought tolerant grass, a stream of mixed perennials and a last stream (so far but the garden is not finished yet) of taller grasses (panicum virgatum, sorghastrum nutans, pennisetum incomptum,…). Every stream is ‘disturbed’ by a taller or somehow different plant, just to give an overall relaxed and more natural feeling. The picture above shows the mixed perennial stream seen in its length (that’s why you don’t see the other streams). In the foreground there’s pink phlomis taurica, only 35cm tall but simply beautiful I think, then you can see some echinaceas that are about to bloom, a pale yellow achillea (I forgot the variety), eryngium planum ‘Blue Glitter’ and the aster-like flowers of kalimeris incisa.

Plomis taurica, artemsia albula 'Silver Queen', echinacea 'Prairie Splendour'

All the perennials here have been planted in july 2011 (I know, not exactly the right time for planting!) because I was so inspired by a french meadow I’ve seen in Gardens Illustrated that I wanted to somehow reproduce that feeling of natural beauty in my garden too. Pictured above you can see a bit of the taller grasses stream (panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’) and artemisia albula ‘Silver Queen’. I found this pink phlomis while I was looking for a much taller one p. ‘Amazone’, which at the end I haven’t bought yet, it’s too expensive. Phlomis are a little bit like salvias, they like well drained rich soil and they always seem at the edge of hardiness in winter, even though this phlomis here has proved to be fully hardy after last windy and cold winter.

Lythrum salicaria 'Robert', persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon', spikes of hordeum jubatum, the light green grass is chasmanthium latifolium, in the water there are ruellia brittoniana and water mint

In another corner of the Gravel garden, just close to where I’m going to place the pergola, I put this small rectangular plaster container, originally a watering tank for pigs I guess, which I found here when we bought the house. It was partially sunk in the ground and used as a pot, together with a porcelain sink (also used as a pot). We decided to discard the sink even though I know it’s very fashionable to show off some recycled junk, I guess that was a little too much even for my taste! Ale repaired the plaster tank and hammered a fresh timber cork to close the outgo at the bottom, then we filled it with water and some little mosquito killer fish and obviously some plants (ruellia brittoniana, water mint and nuphar – a little buttercup like water lily). The tank is still leaking a little, which is good for the pink lythrum salicaria ‘Robert’ and the persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’. In the other picture there are kalimeris incisa again, with panicum ‘Warrior’ again, lavatera kashmiriana and the serviceberries in the background.

Clockwise from top left: bronze fennel, a pot with mixed sedums in the gravel garden and again phlomis taurica

This year the purple fennel decided to settle and flower, I don’t know how come it’s been so difficult to have a so easy to grow plant settled, I hope it’s going to self seed around the garden because I love it and because it attracts butterflies whose caterpillars feed on fennel. I am also pleased with that terracotta pot in the middle of the gravel garden (there is an inspection pit below and I wanted to somehow remember where it was), Ale bought those two creeping sedums (I am sure the burgundy one is ‘Voodoo’, don’t remember the other) and they filled the pot very quickly. They are also very easy from cutting I may move some ‘Voodoo’ around in other wretched spots. The grass on the right is eragrostis ‘Totnes Burgundy’ with very burgundy blades mixed with the green ones, I love this grass.

I promise I’m going to take some pictures from the upstairs window next time and I have some pictures of the veggie garden (with proof of real vegetables on it!) set aside for a future post, today I just wanted to share with you my satisfaction for the Gravel garden, that has been the ‘shame’ garden for too long before!


24 thoughts on “The Gravel Garden

  1. Alberto, it is stunning, you are an artist with your plants and I am green with envy! Love your pink phlomis and your Sedum Voodoo among all your other lovely textures.

    • Thanks a lot Pauline for your kind words! I think I am not an artist at all, I think I am a bit visionary maybe but then the plants do their job on their own, I only look with awe and admiration what Nature can do once you give the spark.

    • Thanks Donna. Believe me, it was the shame garden until recently!
      I love still water features in the garden, I like the way water reflects colours and sun, so I always try to find new tanks. I need to mind the mosquitoes though!

  2. I love your kalimeris incisa, the information says that it flowers late summer into autumn – but yours are flowering now! I want some! Your pink Phlomis is stunning, I have a pink phlomis too, but it doesn’t like drought and the colour isn’t as strong as yours, if you have seedlings or better still cuttings perhaps we can share some plants.
    Your grasses now seem to have moved ahead of mine. The whole gravel garden is fantastic. Christina

    • Thanks Christina! I will certainly try and multiply this phlomis somehow because I really like it too. If it’s going to produce seeds I’ll leave them in the gravel, which seems to be the best ‘greenhouse’ for me, I’m going to try with cuttings too, after flowering period, I’ll let you know!
      Kalimeris incisa was already in flower last year in july when I first bought it, so I am not sure when it start flowering normally, anyway this year it started a couple of weeks ago and it’s going to be covered in flowers until late fall. It really is a reliable plant, maybe not a prima donna but certainly one of the best supporters!

    • No no Bridget, I was talking before! Sometimes I can’t express myself as I wish, please be patient!
      Now I think the results have overcome my expectations, I am very happy with it. I don’t like people pretending to be hard on themselves just to attract compliments from others, I’m not that kind of person and I wanted to be clear on that! I’m not a false modest, I prefer to be cocky instead. 🙂

  3. Alberto – You will be putting all of us to shame – I am green with envy. How amazing to have a dream and realise it within a year!

  4. Hi Alberto,

    Lovely indeed! Wish I had the design ability to actually put something together rather than just hoping for the best! 🙂

    It’s amazing how everything has shot up, after your relatively late start this spring – well worth the wait though.

    • That’s right, one month ago everything looked so still, I guess the weather during this spring helped a lot: it rained more than usual and temperatures raised pretty gradually. I used to just collect plants and then tried to match them in a border, with this garden I’ve changed my way of thinking, for instance I seldom buy a single plant per type, I buy at least 3 or 5. That helps me focus on less plants to match. I’m going to write a post on this maybe.

      • Hi Alberto,

        I do try to design a patch but often when it comes to planting I just do whatever I want or what ‘feels’ right.
        It’s also because most of this garden was here when I moved in and I find myself struggling to move beyond what was here and start with a fresh slate.
        For example, the Aster border was designed before I planted it all up and that’s because I totally made it myself. However, trial and error has meant I’ve had to move things (such as Monkshood growing to gargantuan proportions in the rich soil.)
        I’ve also learned that often my garden isn’t large enough to plant in large numbers – the Flat-topped Aster was bought as a 3 and I’ve had to seriously keep it in check this year as it’s threatening to take over. But I do try to buy in multiples (3 Erysimum, 3 Salvia, 3 Rudbekia etc)

  5. Wow it all looks great. I eagerly await the long view images to help me understand, although the streams sound lovely. I’ve tried to read online about gravel gardens but I’m not at all clear. Do you plant within the gravel areas, or are they paths between or both?

    • Hi Linnie! Well I love gravel and pebbles, I use it a lot in my garden (even in my previous garden) so you might be confused. I have gravel paths all along the Grass garden and the Rose Garden but they are just pathways amongst normal beds, in the Gravel garden gravel is everywhere and planting is more relaxed, like a dried river. Plants suffer less drought in summer and grows better, I never water this garden (except I overfill the plaster container that leaks near the lythrum). The most famous Gravel garden is Beth Chatto’s, try to have a look on the internet, it is very inspiring!

  6. Very beautiful, Alberto – you clever old dog. The sedum is amazing and not one I know. I shouldn’t worry about fennel self seeding. It gets everywhere – at least here in Sussex.

    • I can send you some cuttings if you like, it is very very easy to grow! I gave some to my mother a couple of weeks ago and yesterday she told me she was taking new cuttings from the cuttings, it’s viral! 🙂
      In my previous garden I was invaded by bronze fennel, I just pulled it from where I didn’t want it, same thing with euphorbia wulfenii, can you believe that here I can’t have them both established? They hate you poking around their roots I guess, they prefer growing from seed ‘in loco’.

  7. Alberto,
    I love your combination planting. Drifts running through a border are always eye catching. I saw some last year at a prairie garden i visited. Bronze fennel is a favourite of mine, and one that seems at home in my garden now. I must say, like yours, it took a long time to settle. I love gravel gardens. I have a gravel drive and it is great to see new plants appear …..I am not so sure my husband is so pleased, he likes the drive to look like a drive 🙂
    Tku for thinking of the butterflies……..

    BTW love Gardens Illustrated too 🙂

  8. I subscribed to Gardens Illustrated 3/4 years ago, after I bought one at the airport, coming home from Brighton. Now I discovered I have a free subscription from my iPad too, so next year I’m going to discard the magazine and keep the virtual one, it’s cheaper and I have more chance to read it! I think they use a little too much of Photoshop in their pictures, but everything looks sooooo dreamy!
    I have stuff coming up everywhere in my gravel courtyard too, I call it my greenhouse, I just go there and transplant! Tell your husband not to drive in your garden!!!! 🙂

    PS: I left a comment on your acer post too, but it disappeared, donno what’s going on between wordpress and blogger…

    • Grazie Michele! Per quanto mi riguarda non potrei pensare un giardino senza perenni, graminacee, rose, bulbi… 🙂 ecco forse l’unica cosa a cui mi interesso sempre poco sono le annuali, eccetto quelle che si seminano da sole e diventano in un certo senso perenni. Mi fa tristezza pensare che la primavera successiva non rispunteranno le annuali della stagione precedente, lasciando un vuoto.
      Ma sai che ho dei dubbi tra Priola e Susigarden? Devo controllare l’etichetta di chi è, ma credo più Susigarden che Priola… Devo provare a fare talee visto che i rametti sembrano quasi suffruticosi…

  9. I don’t know how, Alberto, but somehow you snuck these last 3 or 4 posts in without me noticing! I have to say, this garden looks amazing…and for only a year old…how on earth did you do it! It looks far more mature than that. The pink Phlomis is stunning, regardless of the name…just love it!

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