Adding plants to your gravel or slate border

When creating a good garden, there are a few things that are vital to make it work. Obviously it needs to be practical as you will need to be able to use it in the way you want. It will also need plenty of colour, including a lawn and plenty of colourful plants and it also needs to have clean lines and varying texture.

Now, when I say clean lines, I am not necessarily talking about straight lines, I mean definitive lines between lawn and border, lawn and patio, border and pathway etc.

If you’ve read some of my other blogs, you’ll already know that I’m not a huge fan of gardens that are completely covered in concrete or any other aggregate and have no lawn at all. To me, a beautiful green lawn is a quintessential part of any garden. Some people call it “landscaping”, to me landscaping is about mixed textures and not just a whole load of paving slabs with a few plant pots.

A genuinely landscaped garden will usually have a mixture of natural features as well as the man made ones. And if the man made ones can be made to blend in with the natural, then all the better.

One of the jobs I do quite a bit of is creating small to medium sized gravel or slate borders or areas for my clients gardens. They are relatively inexpensive, can be created in 1 or 2 days and they add a little bit of varied texture to any garden. However, I would only genuinely undertake such work after advising my customers of the long term positives and negatives of having “hard” borders or planting areas.

Firstly, I would never advocate creating a gravel or slate border and then planting plants directly into the ground below the gravel. Not only do I think that it starts to defeat the object but it also creates a big problem.

When I create a border or planting area from gravel or slate, I would have applied quite a large quantity of landscaping fabric, to prevent weeds from popping up. The minute you need to cut a hole in the fabric to plant a shrub, you’re undoing all of the hard work. Even if you put the plants in first before putting in the fabric, you will be creating a weak spot, which weeds will exploit. And if you want to add plants further down the road, you’ll need to cut holes anyway, so more room for weeds.

All of that weed prevention effort is effectively undone. Trust me, weeds will appear the following spring or earlier. Don’t get me wrong, on the day it is finished it might look OK but give it time and up they will come, one by one.

Not only that but does it actually look that great? If you look at the image below, you’ll see what I mean. Natural plants meeting unnatural gravel with nothing in between. Yes it’s fairly tidy and yes, you’ll see this in pretty much every street, but to me it’s missing something to bridge the gap between the natural and unnatural.

Now as they grow of course, they will improve, the only problem is they are stuck there for life. Because unless you want to cut more holes in that fabric, you’re stuck with them. Also, then the leaves and flowers drop onto the gravel, you’ll have to clean them all off, working around the plant, which trust me, isn’t easy. Even with a leaf blower, you’ll end up with gravel flying off as well as leaves.

For me, creating a border from gravel or slate is like creating a blank canvas. It’s nothing more than a backdrop, for you to experiment with. Part of experimenting is having the freedom to change things if you want, add more things, throw in a few quirky items or even remove things from time to time.

Plant pots, planters and garden ornaments come in all shapes and sizes. They are made of different materials, are different colours and these days, only your imagination can hold you back from what you choose to plant your plants in and where you place them.

Planting your shrubs and flowers into pots and planters, will give you every opportunity to take your blank canvas gravel or slate border and turn it into something amazing. Everything is mobile, everything is portable and you don’t have to cut holes in your fabric and being able to remove the pots or at least move them to clean the area around them, is a lot easier than trying to work around the plant.

Imagine if you wanted some pictures in your house.  You wouldn’t paint them directly onto the wall would you? No, you want to be able to hang them where you want, change them, move them about. That magnolia wall is no different from that gravel border.

Using pots or planters also gives you the chance to “create at will”. You’re having a social gathering or BBQ, no problem, get a few extra pots, plants, flowers, anything you like and you can create something new there and then. The pot will already add a foot or so to the height of the plant, so you can buy smaller plants, which will save you money.

You might just have a few smaller little gravel or slate areas you want to spruce up, dotting a few potted plants around those areas can just add that little bit of something extra.

Genuine Landscaping is about combining the natural with the man made in subtle, clever and creative ways. By using your gravel or slate border as a blank canvas, you are free to push your creativity to the next level.  Different coloured pots and planters, made of different materials, full of show stopping plants, all sat on a clean backdrop.

What more could you want? 🙂

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