How to choose the best gravel for your garden

Choosing the right gravel to complement paving or decking can make all the difference when creating a new garden design

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Gravel is a great material to choose for your garden for all sorts of purposes. For anyone looking to cut garden design costs, it's both easy to DIY lay and very affordable for covering large areas; for anyone with an eye for detail, it's perfect for finishing the edges of paving; for low maintenance gardens, it's easier to care for (over weed membrane) than expanses of soil; and for anyone looking to create a cottage garden, it's ideal for creating an informal, rustic setting. It's eco-friendly and wildlife-friendly, too, and perfect as part of a natural garden design scheme.

Choosing gravel as part of a new garden design? Find out how to design a garden from scratch

Where to use gravel in your garden?

Gravel is a versatile material that can be used in both contemporary and traditional style gardens. So, whether you want to add touches of gravel around the edges of a patio, create a seaside style garden with expanses of gravelled bedding or use gravel to create a pathway, add it to your garden design shopping list. 

Find out how to lay a gravel path in our guide.

But see it as just one hard landscaping element; garden designers tend to stick to a palette of three to four different materials, such as gravel, brick and oak, to avoid a garden design becoming too busy. This makes it easier to achieve design unity, and allows you to break up one expanse of material, such as paving or decking, with gravel edging, for example.

Nustone Rustic Copper Slate paving stones

Slate from Nustone edges raised beds dressed with a gravel mulch

Which gravel colour to choose?

Ideally, choose your gravel to accent or complement what is already present in the garden, especially the fabric of the house and the local natural stone.

Pea gravel in shades of earthy brown, honey, dark grey and deep brick red work well with most materials used in British architecture, especially period homes. 

Contemporary glass-clad or wooden exteriors, tend to suit a subtler colour combination in white, pale grey and black. 

If your garden gets a lot of shade you might want to choose a pale coloured gravel or paving that has natural light reflecting qualities to brighten your garden up.

Try to view the stone before you buy it; just remember it will look completely different when wet.

If you have several packs of the same gravel to lay, mix them up to enhance colour blending.

Which gravel size to go for?

For footpaths (and for designing a driveway, while we're at it), use a medium sized gravel that won’t move around too much (or get stuck in tyres), but is still comfortable to walk on.

Use cobbles and larger stones or boulders to infill awkward shapes in garden borders, to highlight planting, to add interest in corners, to soften the edges of paved or decked areas and to define separate zones within the garden.

Pavestone Old Black Paving stones in a garden

This Pavestone Old Black Sandstone is the perfect complement for traditional style pea gravel

Which gravel stone to pick?

Most gravel stones will cope with general garden use; harder stones, such as granite, cope better with heavy traffic – important if your car will be driven on and off it.

Loose gravel, resin-bound gravel or self-binding gravel?

Loose gravel is perfect for country gardens, but suits contemporary gardens, too. Water-permeable, it is easy to DIY-lay, too, making it an affordable option. Unless your gravel is contained, however, it will wander, so raking stones back into place will become a regular maintenance job. You may also find that the gravel needs topping up every now and then. If your garden is on a slope or regularly experiences heavy snowfall, loose gravel will not be practical. How to keep gravel in place? Use a cellular grid over the weed membrane and lay the gravel directly over that.

Resin-bound gravel is more suited to contemporary gardens, especially urban courtyards. It's not dissimilar in looks to loose gravel but, with the particles totally set in resin, the finish is more streamlined, although still permeable. It comes in a range of colours and textures, and can be laid over new bases and some existing ones, such as asphalt and concrete; it's also suitable for slopes.  

Self-binding gravel will work in both traditional and contemporary gardens. It works by knitting together once compacted to form a solid base and surface. This gravel looks more natural than resin-bound gravel, is permeable and can be used on slopes of less than one in 15. 

How much does gravel cost?

Loose gravel costs around £30m²; self-binding gravel costs from £55m²; self-binding gravel can cost as little as £10m²

What should gravel be laid on to?

You will need to create a good solid foundation for gravel that's to be used as a pathway or seating area; check the levels carefully, too. Before you lay the gravel over soil in a flowerbed, simply level the soil, then apply a weed block fabric to stop perennial weeds taking hold. 

When using gravel and aggregates, always hose it down before use to clear any small sediment.

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