14 Gravel Garden Ideas for a Water-Wise Garden

Gravel garden steps

Sarah Crowley / Stocksy

Gravel gardens give you an attractive but low-maintenance landscaping option. Not just reserved for desertscapes, you can use gravel to create defined areas within your yard or garden, as a base for container gardens, or to provide visual interest with varying sizes and colors of rock.

Options for the fill material of gravel gardens ranges from small, pea-sized pebbles to larger rocks, including river stone or other landscaping rocks. Usually, a gravel garden replaces the top 4 to 8 inches of soil. Many plants can be grown in a gravel garden, though the most popular choices are hardy varieties with minimal watering needs. In addition to reducing your watering burden, gravel gardens are also a good choice if you want to reduce weed growth. Weeds take root far less frequently with this landscaping option.

Here are 14 ideas to create your own gravel garden.

  • 01 of 14

    Succulent Garden

    Succulents in gravel garden

    Altman Plants

    Succulents require infrequent watering but excellent drainage, making them a good option for gravel garden plants. In this example from Altman Plants, a variety of types and sizes of aloes and other succulents creates visual interest and provides a punch of color against the gray gravel surface.

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  • 02 of 14

    Gravel garden beds

    Purple flowers in gravel garden beds

    fotolinchen / Getty Images

    Applying mulch to your garden beds can provide a number of benefits, including moisture retention and weed suppression. Gravel, as seen in these garden beds, can be an alternative to wood or synthetic rubber mulch options. It allows water and oxygen to penetrate the soil's surface and also offers a measure of insulation during both summer and winter seasons.

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  • 03 of 14

    Around Raised Garden Beds

    Raised garden bed with gravel and pavers

    David Burton / Getty Images

    Use gravel around your raised garden beds to create a permeable walkway as you tend and harvest your plants. The advantage of this option is that any watering runoff will easily seep into the gravel channels between the beds, which keeping your walkway mud-free.

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  • 04 of 14

    Sitting Garden

    Gravel garden with rock seats and wildflowers

    Clive Nichols / Getty Images

    A water-wise garden can offer a calm, simple spot for reflection, as seen in this gravel garden with sitting rocks. In lieu of a green, grassy center, this garden has a warm, neutral stone as its natural surface material. The stone provides a serene, uniform backdrop for the purple wildflowers and the smooth sitting rocks arranged around the garden's perimeter.

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  • 05 of 14

    Outdoor Entertainment Area

    Outdoor entertainment space with seating, fire pit, and gardens

    Raymond Forbes LLC / Stocksy

    A gravel garden can be a social spot, too. Outfitted with comfortable seating and a fire pit, this large space is a great place to gather—and garden, as seen by the raised planter boxes in the background. Unlike grass that quickly becomes trampled under heavy foot traffic, gravel is a good choice for areas that are frequently traversed by feet or furniture.

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  • 06 of 14

    Pathway with Stepping Stones

    Pathway through gravel garden with stepping stones

    EDB Designs

    Create a walkable gravel garden by using smooth, flat stepping stones to create a path through your landscaping. In comparison to mulch or dirt, a gravel garden will keep your shoes cleaner and is less subject to disturbance from wandering feet. However, a well-planned path of step stones is practical and provides a clear visual cue to traverse the garden without disturbing your plants.

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  • 07 of 14

    Deck garden

    Deck gravel garden with small flowers

    beekeepx / Getty Images

    A gravel garden doesn't always have to be in the yard. It can make a great, low-maintenance option for decks. Whether it's around the pool or part of your outdoor entertaining space, this look keeps dirt and mulch from scattering across your deck material.

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  • 08 of 14

    Cactus Garden

    Succulent and cactus water conservation garden

    constantgardener / Getty Images

    A cactus garden is a popular pick for xeriscaping since it gives you the ability to have bold, colorful plants while minimizing water usage. Gravel plays an integral role by allowing precipitation and other moisture to seep into the ground while preventing its rapid evaporation back into the atmosphere. Arid perennial plants, like agave, bougainvillea, and cacti will put on a show year after year.

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  • 09 of 14

    Entryway Steps

    Gravel garden steps

    Sarah Crowley / Stocksy

    Hardscape features, like steps leading to the front gate or entryway of your home, aren't usually adorned by plants. However, these micro gravel gardens define each step and create a clear visual, leading the eye up the pathway. The large, gray stones used as fill material provide a contrast to the smaller, peach-hued gravel of the garden. In keeping with the water-wise nature of the xeriscaped front yard, these mini gravel gardens feature a single cactus plant to keep the look simple and watering needs to a minimum.

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  • 10 of 14

    Low-Maintenance Front Yard

    Gravel garden in front-yard of mid-century modern home

    Sarah Crowley / Stocksy

    Give your lawn a low-maintenance look by transforming it into a gravel garden, as seen here. You can keep the look simple and sparse, with few (if any) low-maintenance flowering succulents or rocks decorating the yard. Or, incorporate more hardy plants into the design plan if you prefer a more visually diverse look for your home's front yard. In either case, a gravel garden for the front yard draws the eye to the home's exterior, while minimizing your need for watering and lawn care.

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  • 11 of 14

    Large-scale Gravel Garden

    Drought tolerant garden with agave and ornamental grasses

    David Madison / Getty Images

    While gravel gardens are often chosen for their simple aesthetic, you can also increase the drama of this landscaping choice by choosing plants with a big presence. This drought-tolerant garden captures attention with a mix of agave, stachys, ornamental grasses, and other plants that require minimal maintenance.

    When deciding on plants that will make a bold statement, consider factors like how tall the plant will grow, foliage color, and flowering habits. You don't have to create a symmetrical layout, but balance the scale of plants along the length of your garden. In addition, look to arrange larger plants toward the back of your gravel garden, giving smaller plants an opportunity to make a visual contribution up front.

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  • 12 of 14

    Retaining Wall Garden

    Cactus plants against white brick wall

    Carey Shaw / Stocksy

    Transform your retaining wall into a cactus gravel garden for an eye-catching but easy-to-maintain landscaping feature. The combinations are nearly endless, but one idea to explore is pairing large-scale rocks with finer gravel fill for a contrast of texture and scale. It's important to keep the look vibrant rather than dull and monotone. This is accomplished with a variety of cacti that bring a pop of green to the retaining wall's gravel garden.

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  • 13 of 14

    Container Garden

    Container plants in xeriscape garden

    Trinette Reed / Stocksy

    Not all flora and fauna must be planted in the ground. Instead, you can use a gravel garden as the backdrop for a container garden. Remember to keep a close eye on the moisture levels of plants grown in containers, since the roots can't tap into any moisture available from within the ground. However, if you choose low-maintenance plants, you can enjoy a fuss-free gravel garden that also gives you the flexibility to add or move plants as needed.

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  • 14 of 14

    Gravel Garden Oasis

    Potted palm in gravel garden

    GCShutter / Getty Images

    A gravel garden can be used to showcase plants large and small. In this instance, contrasting shades of gravel and a small border are used to create a focal point in this gravel garden. The large, potted palm springs from the center of the gravel ring, complemented by a flowering groundcover species.