POT'S GROWING ON? 22/09/23
Given the way our summers keep getting hotter, I do think that increasing the amount of hard landscaping is only going to add to the problem. Gravel does heat up in the sun and releases that heat slowly. Green plants, even ones that are very well adapted to a hot dry environment, will cool instead. We inherited a sunny gravelled front garden/ driveway and when you opened the front door on a hot day you were hit by a wall of heat. We’ve removed a lot of it, (re-used by a landscaper friend), and planted sun tolerant ground cover for the driveway and mid sized evergreen shrubs and perennials on the garden side. No more wall of heat in the summer, more wildlife, more insects, more colour and flowers and more comments from passers-by about how nice to see a garden!
I am walking my dog every day on a fallow piece of land that sits along train tracks and used to be the place where the slaughterhouses for the entire city were standing, basically in the middle of town. there still are beautifully cobbled pathways with huge basalt cobblestones but mostly the area is smashed stones, bricks and trampled earth, depleted of any soil. but as the year goes round one can see beautiful flowers and shrubs coming into season. right now there is a mass of light blue asters, tall grasses, thistles, and in may there are 30 different blooming species, at least the ones I could count. the plants behave a little like at Prospect Cottage, everything is slowed down, small but tough and resilient against the baking sun, wind, frost, rains. So this is a kind of “natural” gravel garden that can show us a little about which plants could be used and which thrive in such places, without having to make everything into mediterranean gardens, as beautiful as they may be.
Also agree. As someone who I inherited a coastal garden with a LOT of gravel (the front is all gravel with roses and a couple of shrubs) I can confirm that despite a weed suppressant layer underneath, weeding is a nightmare! I think previously it just got blasted with weedkiller on a regular basis ☹️. The ground underneath is pretty much devoid of (visible, at least) life, rather depressing. I am now in the process gradually converting areas of it back to a non- gravel, natural style and it's so great to see how quickly nature is returning..
Agree completely. And at last someone is saying it ! Thank you
Thanks for raising this really important question and for the thought provoking piece .
Hands Up ! I’m just in the process of creating some gravel borders to break up a driveway that is otherwise solid pavers . Given the predicted scarcity of water and fertiliser resources I’d decided that this might be worth trying , following the excellent model from Derry Watkins garden .
However I agree that soil biodiversity is unlikely to improve dramatically ! The front driveway is on a busy road and so I was looking for a less labour intensive . Time will indeed tell but at least above the gravel bees, butterflies etc are now browsing where nothing was there for them previously ,
Thanks again for raising this - we do need an informed debate about it
Well I must admit to having large areas of recycled aggregate - last April I had a digger take up half the concreted yard outside the house, put it through crushers and dropped it back in situ with around 10% 'soil' mixed in. And its being planted up with grasses, euphorbias and lots of self seeded spp like verbascum and verbena. Despite a dry May/June (no watering) it thrived and was full of pollinators all summer - will see what next year brings. It will be 'wild' and provide a link between the formal house and garden and surrounding fields of my organic farm. We had plenty of aggregate to reuse from the clearance of an old barn. It too went through the crusher and been used to make garden paths and new gravel beds - not necessarily an economic saving, but has reduced the carbon footprint of the new garden considerably.
I agree with your view on gravel use in the garden and appreciate you bringing it up. It needs to be said. But I have a couple of howevers:
You talk about 'essential use on some paths and seating areas' - really, essential? Following your own argument, if everybody gravelled their paths and seating areas that too would be a huge amount, and the way you put it in your newsletter excuses that use. There are plenty of recycled hard surfaces that can be used such as the slabs you laid for your new terrace recently, recycled bricks - some of my paths are just packed earth and have become so well-trodden that they aren't horribly muddy when it's wet. And this year I experimented with not cutting my lawn at all and found that the paths I made through it stayed short and green and healthier than the rest of the lawn, so grass paths are an option too.
And what about the cost to the environment of digging out and transporting gravel for gardeners? It's huge, as I found when I was considering supplementing the gravel on my patch, which I laid down 30 years ago and is rather thin and weedy now. I also found that there's a quarry not a couple of miles from my house where I could have bought some, but I decided not to in the end, based on the same arguments that you give in your article and am letting wildflowers fill it. It looks wonderful in the summer and spring and bearable for the rest of the year. So for those intent on using gravel there is a possibility of reducing the harm to the climate by sourcing it locally.
I love your newsletter thank you, it's always interesting and useful and thought-provoking.
So interesting to read this. After visiting a nearby dry garden I have been wondering about this, so good to hear you raising and discussing it … similar questions have been running through my mind … how can this be a solution? Surely working with what is there would be better? Also, not so much on the gravel, but with regard to the concrete and other building waste that is being transported in and added to the existing soil … I’m all for reusing things rather than adding them to landfill without even trying to find an alternative, but surely this is just polluting the land as well (are there not toxins/chemicals in there, which will be around for a long time?) and there must be some better way to reuse/recycle/avoid it?! Love your posts.
Thank you for introducing such a great topic. I’m averse to gravel in the quantities that garden show presenters advise us to use. How did we get by before it became the fashion to finish off every container, pot or seed tray with a gravel topping? (Answer - perfectly well). If, like me, you have no transport and don’t fancy doubling the cost of your purchases by taking taxis, bags of gravel are a luxury easily foregone. Getting just one immensely heavy sackful home from the outer London garden centres to my flat in town has to be planned like a military campaign. I need to know where every lift and escalator is. Impossible, even with a trolley, to lift even a single large bagful up into a bus or railway carriage, or up and down steps (and they have a habit of splitting!). One sack a season is plenty for me. Getting it home is my worst gardening day of the year. Euphorbias and alpines love it. I don’t waste it on anything else. I get a much better return from heavy manual labour by lugging bags of all-purpose compost around (apologies for this, but I don’t have a ‘proper’ garden, and I do make the compost last).
A very thoughtful article – thank you, Jack! There must be a balance in all things, and all of the cost to bringing in gravel to be on trend is a really good point. In the US where we have large urban and suburban areas, planting straight into building material is a very exciting idea because it prevents scraping it out and bringing in topsoil. But it is mad to scrape out rich healthy soil, and put in aggregate. Perhaps this is just a rich man’s game? As designers we should be advising people to work with what they have in a sustainable manner.