ISSUE 22  |  Outside and In

Garden Envy: 10 Dramatic Drainage Ideas to Steal

June 02, 2016 4:00 AM

BY Meredith Swinehart

Gravel doesn’t sound like a glamorous hardscaping material. It’s cheap, ubiquitous, and really, well, gravelly.

But take a closer look, and you’ll realize that the seemingly mundane material is a superhero. It’s a maintenance-free ground cover. It allows water to drain back into the soil. And it acts as a natural French drain (because properly laid gravel doesn’t puddle water). Not to mention, it has an elegant formalism when landscaped along the perimeter of a house.

Here are ten gardens with gravel to envy (with ideas you can steal for your own garden):


Above: Photograph by Matthew Millman courtesy of Scott Lewis.

At a guesthouse in California’s Napa Valley, a gravel courtyard leads to a bluestone walkway. Our goal was to make this garden evocative of the surrounding landscape, which is just stunning,” said SF-based landscape architect Scott Lewis, who came up with a garden design for the one-acre property that takes advantage of the agrarian nature of the Napa Valley. for more, see Vineyard Haven: A Napa Valley Garden That Belongs to the Land.


Above: After their clients moved their waterside house into a former cornfield 400 feet away to protect it from the sea, Long Island-based landscape architects LaGuardia Design Group created a bold plan to transform the setting. One detail: alongside the driveway, gravel and a concrete retaining wall with a sharp edge contrast with the untamed floppiness of the grasses planted at varying elevations.  For more, see Dune Story: A Postmodern Masterpiece Saved from the Sea.


Above: A gravel court welcomes visitors to garden designers Buell Steelman and Rebecca Sams’ house in Eugene, Oregon. See more in Rehab Diary: A Garden Makeover for a Ranch-Style House in Eugene, Oregon.


Above: Two galvanized water troughs transformed into raised beds are set in gravel for drainage. Photograph by Marla Aufmuth for Gardenista.

See more in Steal This Look: Water Troughs as Raised Garden Beds.


Above: Photograph via Brook Landscape.

In a Brooklyn backyard, garden designer Brook Klausing edged limestone pavers with crushed limestone dust mixed with gravel. “It’s a very modern look, but I tried to soften it with the gravel and plantings, like the ferns in the gravel,” says Klausing. For more of this garden, see Designer Visit: Brook Klausing Elevates a Brooklyn Backyard.


Above: An olive tree is a focal point in a gravel courtyard in Texas. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.


Above: Photograph by Dario Fusaro courtesy of Cristiana Ruspa.

Turin-based landscape architect Cristiana Ruspa planted low-water, hardy perennials at the edge of a gravel courtyard in the Piedmontese hills of northern Italy. For more of this garden, see Rehab Diaries: The Resurrection of a Medieval Nobleman’s Garden.


Above: In Alamo, California Kriste Michelini and Esther Arnold created a vegetable garden set against a backdrop of decomposed granite, which prevents runoff and filters rainwater into the earth. “I wanted to create a simple vegetable garden with raised vegetable boxes that would act as sculpture and look just as good in the winter months as well as during the summer months with everything in full bloom,” says Michelini. See more of the garden in Gardenista Considered Design Awards 2014: Finalists for Best Edible Garden.


Above: Photograph by Jennifer Roper courtesy of Naomi Sanders.

In LA’s Hancock Park neighborhood, garden designer Naomi Sanders edged caste concrete pavers with gravel, matching the color to the front stoop of the house. “It makes the hardscape feel more connected to the house,” she says. For more of this garden, see Before & After: A Grande Dame in LA’s Hancock Park.


Above: This house by Feldman Architecture, a member of the Remodelista + Gardenista Architect/Designer Directory, is sited on a steep slope in an oak forest in California. The structure was designed with environmental sensitivity in mind, and surrounding gravel allows water to drain back into the soil.