One of the biggest gardening oops I routinely make is doing things backwards. I visualize the space, find great plants, put in the plants and then spend the next several seasons trying to add hardscape around them.
That's the wrong way.
The right way to build a gravel garden would be to first dig up the sod, and place random boulders for interest into the dug space. Then, and only then, fill around them with pea stone so they are naturally half buried. Then, and only then, add soil at the edges to make borders above the level of the gravel. Then, after the machines are gone, you can plant. There is an order to these things.
Instead, I started with garden borders dug out of the lawn, and planted them fairly densely before deciding to add pea stone.
|First there were gardens all planted up, surrounding a lawn space, with only narrow entrances in and out of the central area.|
|Then I wanted a gravel garden here. Access for wheelbarrows and machines was difficult, and getting the depth of the stone layer to sit below the existing garden soil level was tricky. It took extra digging.|
|It got done, and the plants looked nice all around the new gravel area. But hey, how about some ice-age boulders strewn about? For interest when the plants die back.|
|This winter I added large rocks. Because they were dropped in after the space was completed, they could not be partially sunk. They look randomly plopped, not natural. And I think there are too few.|
Everything was harder than it needed to be by doing this backwards. The poor guy who placed the big rock for me this winter . . . he could not drive his machine into the restricted area, it wouldn't maneuver in the gravel anyway, and he ended up carrying and wrestling the big stone into place by hand. It is not buried as it should be. I can work the smaller rocks a little more into the gravel. I think I need to add soil behind them, to raise the garden level so it looks like the rocks and the garden border are one.
Come spring and summer, plants will spill over the edges and foliage will mingle with the rocks and the perimeter will look better than ok. I can experiment with placement of the small rocks to make it less artificial. I know I need to get more.
But what an oops it is to build your gardens backwards. It's just a lot harder to do.
The picture below is from my friend Jane's gravel garden last summer. This is what I am going for, and I have clearly not achieved it.
My random rocks are too puny, too few. I'm working on it, I have her space as a model, but I'm not getting it yet.
They're dumb rocks, dammit, how hard can it be to get this look?